Monday, September 1, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Change.org petition garners wide support for rehiring Holy Ghost teacher

Fired teacher Michael Griffin (right) of Mount Laurel and his partner, Vincent Giannetto.
Fired teacher Michael Griffin (right) of Mount Laurel and his partner, Vincent Giannetto.
Story Highlights
  • A petition calls for administrators to rethink the termination of Michael Griffin.
  • It has garnered nearly 1,400 signatures since it was launched Monday.
  • Griffin says he was fired after applying for a license to wed his partner of 12 years.

A petition urging a Bensalem school to immediately reinstate a gay teacher who was fired after announcing intentions to wed his longtime partner is currently one of the fastest-growing Change.org causes in Pennsylvania, having garnered nearly 1,400 signatures since it was launched Monday.

The petition created by Yardley resident Daniel Simon calls on the administrators of the Holy Ghost Preparatory School, a private Catholic all-boys institution, to rethink the Dec. 6 termination of language teacher Michael Griffin.

"After 12 years of employment, he was terminated by his Alma Mater because his contract stated that he must follow the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church as a condition of his employment," Simon wrote. "The school felt his decision to seek to marry the person he loves is in violation of the church's teachings."

Griffin, 35, of Mount Laurel, N.J. wrote Friday on his Facebook page that his termination came after, in light of his home state's recent legalization of same-sex marriage, he applied for a license to wed his partner of 12 years. 

The teacher, a Holy Ghost alumnus, on Tuesday told The Daily News his sexuality was no secret and that he'd brought his partner, Vincent Giannetto, to school functions.

But he said school administrators still gave him the boot after learning of his impending nuptials.

“Unfortunately, this decision contradicts the terms of his teaching contract at our school, which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the church as a condition of their employment," Holy Ghost Prep president Fr. James McCloskey said Saturday in a statement. "In discussion with Mr. Griffin, he acknowledged that he was aware of this provision in his contract, yet he said that he intended to go ahead with the ceremony. Regretfully, we informed Mr. Griffin that we have no choice but to terminate his contract effective immediately."

Simon in the petition branded the school's decision "obvious discrimination" and slammed it as "unacceptable."

"Teachers at Holy Ghost have gotten divorced and remarried during their tenures: How does the administration not find these actions in conflict with the church's teachings?" he wrote. "It is obvious that the administration is selectively interpreting the church's positions on marriage so as to discriminate against homosexuals.”

Simon encouraged supporters to write to McCloskey, along with Holy Ghost principal Jeffrey Danilak, and demand that Griffin be reinstated. He also suggested readers contact legislators to ensure such instances of alleged discrimination won't happen again.

Though at least 20 states and many municipalities — including Philadelphia — have enacted laws making it illegal to hire and fire solely on the basis of sexual orientation, Pennsylvania is not one of them. 

A combined 102 legislators in May signed on to sponsor two companion bills in the state Senate and House of Representatives that would amend the Pennsylvania Humans Relations Act to outlaw housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity. In each body, the legislation has languished in committee.

"Mr Griffin has said that he does not wish to return to Holy Ghost after how he was treated, however it is and should be his decision to reject or accept an offer of employment - not have his employment status dictated by a discriminatory contract," Simon wrote. "At a minimum, the school owes him an apology for their bigotry and discrimination."

The petition's proponents — many of them current or former Holy Ghost teachers and students — responded on the site with words of support.

"As a former social justice teacher for Holy Ghost Prep, I find this issue of utmost importance," wrote Justin Sands of Leuven, Belgium. "Michael Griffin was an excellent teacher and a great colleague and should be reinstated immediately with a formal apology."

Marc Connuck, who graduated last year from Holy Ghost, called Griffin's firing "both hypocritical and ironic."

"The hypocrisy stems from the fact that no person is perfect. I am more than sure that at least one time during both Principal Danilak and Father James McCloskey's tenures they have violated at least one teaching set by the Church," he wrote, urging the two administrators to resign and the school to issue Griffin an apology. "Holy Ghost Preparatory School taught me to love and respect those around me. Is the termination of Michael Griffin based on his sexual orientation a loving gesture?"

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