A Catholic high school in a Seattle suburb is attracting national media attention after more than 400 students staged a sit-in on the school’s campus on Dec. 19 to protest the firing of a gay vice principal on grounds that he married his same-sex partner.
According to media reports, officials at Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish, Wash., said they informed Vice Principal Mark Zmuda he had to resign from his job because his same-sex marriage violated his employment contract, which requires that he follow church teachings.
“He clearly understood, as a condition of his employment, that he would abide by church teachings and one of those teachings is they do not approve of this marriage,” the Seattle Post Intelligencer quoted school spokesperson Mike Patterson as saying.
Patterson initially told television and newspaper reporters that Zmuda resigned after being informed that he had violated his contract by marrying his husband Dana Jergens in July. Patterson said school officials didn’t learn about the marriage until mid-December.
Zmuda told one of his students in a recorded interview that he did not resign.
“To set the record straight I was terminated,” he told student Catrina Crittenden, who recorded the interview on video at Zmuda’s request and allowed Q13 Fox News to broadcast part of it.
The Post Intelligencer and other news media outlets reported that Zmuda, 38, a former teacher who also served as the school’s swim coach, is beloved by students. Within minutes of the school’s announcement of Zmuda’s departure, students began planning a protest rally and sit-in through a flurry of text messaging and Twitter postings, the Post Intelligencer reported.
Q13 Fox News, a local TV station, reported that students and supporters, including parents, have staged sit-ins at several Catholic schools in the area and held at least one protest outside the offices of the Archdiocese of Seattle to express opposition to the firing.
“The students were pretty upset about that so we all came together and rebelled against it,” Eastside Catholic High School senior Christian Leider told the Seattle Times in a Dec. 19 interview.
“We did not know he was gay before today,” the paper quoted Leider as saying. “He’s always looking out for the best in everyone and he always wants everyone to do their best.”
School spokesperson Patterson told the Seattle Times that Zmuda could no longer work for the school because of his same-sex marriage, not because he’s gay.
“He’s a great administrator,” the paper quoted Patterson as saying. “We fully support him. We’re going to give him glowing reference letters, all of that sort of thing. But Eastside Catholic doesn’t have the power to change that law,” he told the Times in referring to church doctrine.
A petition posted on Change.com by Eastside Catholic High student Bradley Strode in support of Zmuda had over 30,000 signatures as of Dec. 30. The petition calls on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to change the church’s position on same-sex marriage.
The petition states:
“We, the student body at Eastside Catholic School, have experienced an egregious injustice which was inflicted by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle. Our beloved vice principal, Mr. Zmuda, was terminated by the Archdiocese as a result of his marriage to another man. The student body is outraged that an incredible administrator, coach, and human being was fired solely because of his love and marriage for another human being. We are uniting in order to change the Catholic Church’s opposition to gay marriage. It is time to revisit the policy and act as Jesus would have, loving and supporting every person regardless of their marital status. United, we want this policy changed so that the Catholic Church can achieve its mission of acting with unconditional love in every situation.”