(Photo: Mikki Schaffner/Jonathan Zeng)
Officials at a Christian school in Cincinnati, Ohio, are at the center of controversy this week after they allegedly offered a teaching position to a local man then changed their minds after learning that he is gay.
Jonathan Zeng, a music teacher and performer, claims the decision by officials of the Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy (CHCA) to rescind the job offered to him is "blatant discrimination" and "a major stain on the Christ-Centered educational philosophy and mission of CHCA." He applied to be a music teacher at the academy's Otto Armleder School after the previous music teacher retired.
According to a letter Zeng wrote to the academy's board members and administrators, after the school's principal let him know he was being offered the job he met with the head of the school and a board member to discuss his faith, teaching philosophy and more. The meeting went well, he says, but about 15 minutes after it was over he was called into another meeting for further discussion.
"[The board representative] explained that there was an issue weighing on his mind because of my application answers regarding my belief in Christ's unconditional love and that we as Christ's followers are to show that love to all without judgment. These responses prompted him to ask if I was a homosexual," wrote Zeng. "I was completely taken aback by this and asked why that was important. He explained that it was school policy not to employ teachers who are homosexual."
When asked why such a policy exists, the board member allegedly told Zeng it was because he would be working with children and because the nondenominational Christian school values the "sanctity of marriage."
Zeng told The Christian Post on Thursday that he didn't know about the school's policy preventing homosexuals from teaching there, otherwise he would never have applied. Still, he doesn't believe sexual orientation should be a factor when it comes to education, and says he wouldn't take it upon himself to tell children what to believe about it anyway.
"I don't think anybody's sexuality has any place in the classroom. I would never have talked about my sexuality in the classroom. If someone had a question about that, about the issue of homosexuality or of being a gay Christian, I would direct them to speak to their family knowing that it's a sensitive issue," he said.
When asked about the incident, CHCA replied with a statement, saying, "CHCA keeps confidential all matters discussed within a candidate's interview. We're looking into this matter, although the initial information we have seen contains inaccuracies. We will not be discussing individual hiring decisions or interviews."
Zeng, who already works as a part-time teacher at a local Catholic school, says this is the first time he has ever been asked about his sexual orientation as part of a job interview.
He currently doesn't have any plans to take legal action against the school, although he says he is open to learning more about his legal options. His goal, he says, is to simply create awareness about his situation and the "discriminatory practice" he was faced with. He also expressed his concern for any students at the school who might be gay.
Scott E. Knox, a Cincinnati attorney who focuses on employment and discrimination law, told Cincinnati.com that federal laws probably won't protect Zeng, but a local ordinance might.
A city Human Right's ordinance makes it illegal for Cincinnati employers to discriminate against anyone because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, said Knox. Although religious institutions are exempt from the ordinance, he believes the school could be in danger of a penalty if it received its tax-exempt status as a private school and not as a house of worship.
But David Cortman, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, says the school's right to act according to its faith – regardless of how it obtained its tax-exempt status – is protected under the U.S. Constitution.
"Under the United States Constitution, religious organizations do have the freedom to carry out their faith and their religious mission. So regardless of the local ordinance, the federal constitution trumps in that instance," Cortman told CP.
Cortman believes that some incidents similar to Zeng's that have occurred across the U.S. in recent months are being instigated by those who push a homosexual agenda, and by gay teachers who know a school's stance against hiring homosexuals before they even apply. Many media outlets, he says, also try to prioritize the gay agenda as being more important than religion.