EU commissioner questions Polish-church bar on gay teachers

November 18, 2010

Warsaw, November 18 (ENInews)--A European Union commissioner has rejected claims
by a Polish government minister that her country's Roman Catholic schools can
refuse to employ gay and lesbian teachers.

"The commission fails to see how a teacher's sexual orientation could reasonably
constitute a genuine and determining occupational requirement," said Viviane
Reding, who is the EU's justice commissioner, and comes from Luxembourg.

"Organizations whose ethos is based on religion or belief are allowed to take a
person's religion or belief into account, where necessary, when recruiting
personnel, and to require their personnel to show loyalty to that ethos," said
Reding. "It is made clear, however, that any difference in treatment should not
justify discrimination on grounds other than of religion or belief."

Reding was responding to parliamentary questions for a ruling on employment at
religious schools from Michael Cashman, a lawmaker representing Britain's Labour
Party, and Raul Romeva i Rueda, who represents Spain's Green Party. This move
came after Elzbieta Radziszewska, a senior Polish official dealing with Issues
of Equal Treatment, said that her country's Catholic schools are entitled to bar
gay or lesbian staffers.

In a 26 October written statement, Reding said that the European Court of
Justice had not yet tested the issue but noted that the EU's anti-discrimination
directive rules that, "religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or
disability" is to be taken into account by employers only when, "legitimate and
proportionate" and, "essential for the job in question".

Radziszewska rejected the commissioner's ruling, and said she believed that
"different treatment" was justified in the case of Catholic schools.

"It is clearly stated that the directive does not affect the rights of churches
and other public or private organizations, whose ethics draw on religion or
convictions, to demand that employees act in good faith and are loyal to the
organization's ethics," Radziszewska said in a 28 October statement. "If someone
does not fulfil these ethical requirements, and wishes at the same time to be
employed in institutions where these requirements are indispensable and
essential for a given job, they must reckon that the principle of equal
treatment need not be applied in their case."

Gay and lesbian groups have often complained of discrimination against them in
Poland, where the predominant Catholic Church opposed clauses in the 1997
constitution that bar discrimination on grounds of, ''sexual orientation", and
it has rejected requests for a pastoral service for homosexuals.

In a September interview with the Polish Catholic Gosc Niedzielny newspaper,
Radziszewska said church-owned schools and colleges could refuse jobs to
declared homosexual staffers, and sack those already employed, "in line with
their [the church's institutions'] values and principles".

Poland's Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has criticised this claim, and the
head of the country's Anti-Discrimination Rights Association, Krzysztof Smiszek,
has also rejected it. He said the minister's, "hurtful statements" conflict with
European Union norms, and risk creating, "a climate allowing homophobia in
workplaces"