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10th Dec 2016

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Catholic schools cannot refuse to hire gay teachers, says Brussels

  • Tourists in front of the Vatican in Rome (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Commission has said that Roman Catholic schools in Poland or elsewhere in the EU cannot refuse to employ gay teachers.

EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding said on Wednesday (26 October) in a written statement that EU law on non-discrimination in the workplace allows religious outfits "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."

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But she added: "While it is difficult to make a statement about a hypothetical case, the commission fails to see how a teacher's sexual orientation could reasonably constitute a genuine and determining occupational requirement."

The remarks come in response to formal questions by two MEPs, British centre-left deputy Michael Cashman and Spanish Green member Raul Romeva i Rueda.

The questions arose after a Polish junior minister in charge of equality, Elzbieta Radziszewska, said in an interview in Catholic daily Gosc Niedzielny in September that Catholic schools can exclude openly gay teachers and that the EU's 10-year-old anti-discrimination directive gives them a special exemption to do so.

In a separate episode, she also angered civil rights groups by outing her opponent in a TV debate, lawyer Krzysztof Smiszek, and accusing him of bias due to his sexuality.

Polish PM Donald Tusk later criticised Ms Radziszewska, saying she "certainly made a mistake." The junior minister has kept her post, however.

Ms Radziszewska on Thursday published a one-page-long statement on her bureau's website in response to Ms Reding.

Her communiqué said she agrees with the commissioner that no one can be fired on the basis of their sexuality alone.

It added, however: "Sexual orientation is one thing, while it is another thing altogether to publicly declare disloyalty to the ethics of a given church, religious organisation or institution where ethics or beliefs play an important role. If somebody does not meet these ethical requirements, but at the same time wants to be employed in institutions where compliance with these requirements is essential and where they are indispensable for the job, they must take into account that the principle of equal treatment does not have to be applied in their case."

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