A college prep high school teacher in Italy is coming under fire from liberal activist groups for asking students in a Catholicism class to rank the severity of sin on a list that includes homosexual behavior.
According to the U.S.-based Alliance Defending Freedom legal group, during the optional hour on Catholicism at Liceo Classico Mariotti, a university preparatory high school in Perugia, the teacher distributed a questionnaire to students asking them to rank from 0 to 10 the gravity of sinfulness of a list of activities, including selling drugs, war, terrorism, murder, contraception, abortion, premarital sex, and homosexual behavior.
Two groups, Arcigay and Omphalos Association, learned of the assignment and filed a complaint with the National Anti-Discrimination Office, claiming that the questionnaire provoked discriminatory arguments among the students, ADF said in a statement released Tuesday.
"The government should not honor requests to punish citizens for engaging in perfectly legitimate and protected free speech," said ADF Legal Counsel Paul Coleman. "It should not surprise anyone that the subject of sin and morality would occur in an optional lesson on official Catholic teaching. No reasonable person should conclude that this somehow 'discriminates' against anybody, especially since the questionnaire never even singled out any particular behavior."
ADF has sent a letter to Italy's National Anti-Discrimination Office in defense of the teacher.
The religious freedom law group points out that the European Convention of Human Rights states that "freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is one of the foundations of a 'democratic society.'" The ADF letter explains that the questionnaire was "not focused on homosexuality and carried out during an hour of optional teaching of the Catholic religion" and that, regardless, the ECHR's protection of freedom of religion and expression takes "precedence over an individual's 'right' not to be offended by statements critical to homosexuality."
"The questionnaire, moreover, turns out to be developed and evaluated in a neutral and objective manner, without giving any importance to the sexual orientation of the students," the letter states. "In any case it needs to be considered that the teaching of the Catholic religion is optional for the students…."
The letter was co-written with local counsel Mattia Ferrero, one of nearly 2,300 attorneys allied with ADF. [See letter in Italian]
Coleman was asked by The Christian Post whether these types of complaints rising to the level of court cases happen or can happen in the United States.
"Yes, these sorts of cases can certainly happen in America," Coleman explained. "Launching intimidating litigation proceedings with the hope of pressurizing citizens who disagree with homosexual behavior into silence is a universal tactic used by activist organizations. There are also many cases emerging in America where citizens, including in the academic environment, are being censored, for not showing unbridled support for homosexuality."
Adding to the existing tension about religion, a long-standing debate in Italy over whether state funds should be used for education that focuses on a single faith re-ignited last month, when for the first time in history, according to RNS, the entire class of one high school opted out of an elective on Roman Catholicism.
Alliance Defending Freedom states that it is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.