St. Louis Catholic school music teacher fired over gay marriage

| Contributing Reporter

Charlie Robin, the executive director of Edison Theatre and the 560 Music Building (right) and his partner, Al Fischer. Fischer was terminated from his position as a Catholic school music teacher due to the couple’s plans to marry in New York later this month.James Harrang | Student Life

Charlie Robin, the executive director of Edison Theatre and the 560 Music Building (right) and his partner, Al Fischer. Fischer was terminated from his position as a Catholic school music teacher due to the couple’s plans to marry in New York later this month.

Al Fischer, a music teacher at St. Ann Catholic School and partner of Charlie Robin, the executive director of Washington University’s Edison Theatre, was fired Feb. 17 after the couple’s plans to get married in New York were overhead by a representative of the St. Louis Archdiocese.

Though the couple has kept their lifestyle no secret from the community, getting married went too far against what Robin characterized as a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

The marriage goes against the Christian Witness Statement every St. Ann’s employee signs, that says that the educator will “not take a public position contrary to the Catholic Church” and will “demonstrate a public life consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

The school originally planned to fire Fischer on Mar. 9, 2012, the day of his wedding. But when he posted on Facebook about the plans for termination, parents complained to the school about his firing. Despite this protest, he was fired the next day, without being given a chance to say good-bye to his students.

“Having a 20-year same-sex relationship is not a problem. Attending all-school events with Al is not a problem. Going to social events with staff and faculty is not a problem. Meeting and creating friendships as a couple with staff, faculty and parents, also not a problem. Announcing that we’re getting married, suddenly a job-ending tragedy,” Robin wrote in an email to Student Life.

Administrators at the St. Ann Catholic School declined to comment, although the Archdiocese of St. Louis sent a statement supporting the firing.

“The Archdiocese of St. Louis fully supports the action taken at St. Ann parish school as it is in full compliance with the Christian Witness Statement signed by every educator in the Catholic school system,” the written statement said.

Robin and Fischer both grew up Catholic. They share a passion for music and the performing arts. While Robin, a Washington University alumnus, is responsible for fostering the arts on campus by developing the annual schedule of shows at the theatre, Fischer is a professional musician and serves as artistic director for the Gateway’s Men’s Chorus.

Fischer was also employed as an organist and choral director at the Catholic school, but the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis instructed the pastor and principal to fire him upon learning of his plans to marry.

In a letter to parents, Fischer emphasized that he did not blame the school for his firing.

“I think the word has been well spread that this is not the fault of St. Ann School or it’s leadership, and I want to emphasize that I get that, too. [School administrators] are still there for me in a big way. I ask that you help them keep their focus on the things that are important: the business of running a school, supporting your kids, and (sadly) finding a music teacher,” he wrote in the letter. “Social justice is an area of vital importance to the Catholic Church, and they do great work in this area. A family conversation about whether or not justice was served here could be a great thing. I do not want the lesson from this for the kids to be, ‘Keep your mouth shut, hide who you are or what you think if it will get you in trouble.’ In a just world, uncomfortable truths need to be stated.”

Robin feels the Church takes action by threatening job security rather than acting on moral principals of equality and human rights.

“Al is a damn good teacher and much loved by his students, and it’s the students that lose out the most here,” he said.

With additional reporting by Michelle Merlin.

  • Cde

    Why not let people live their life’s as they choose??

  • wayne

    The Catholic Church retains and protects pedophiles and fires music teachers……duh…..

  • Kate Worland

    Has anybody in the Roman Catholic hierarchy noticed that they were the ones to go public about Lewis and Robin when they fired Lewis? These men were simply conversing with their friends and family, not the media. It was the church that went public. So much for the hypocracy of saying that Mr. Lewis violated his contract. Kate Worland, alum

  • Ns

    The country that is trying to spread freedom around the world cannot give freedom to it’s own citizens … How ironic and stupid!

  • Rick S.

    It was not too long ago when Catholic institutions tolerated, even supported, gay relationships as long as they were not named as such, as in the manner of this long-term couple:

    Alas, it is increasingly difficult to keep up appearances, despite all the blather about “morality”.

  • What’s wrong here?

    From the way it’s presented, there doesn’t seem to be any “social injustice” here. Al Fischer signed a contract and knowingly failed to adhere to the entirety of it. Case closed. What did he expect, he could sign it and then change the school’s stance on the issue later?

    With that being said, the church does not support gay marriage or the homosexual lifestyle, BUT it does NOT support the bigotry towards these people that is typically seen in some religious fundamentalist communities and from “groups” like Westboro Baptist “church”.

    • Guesterson08

      Typically, I would agree with you in the sense that private contracting rights should be paramount: you receive that for which you bargain. However, it’s trickier in employment situations where bargaining power is rarely equal between employer/employee. To me, the social injustice is the very fact that an employee needed to sign a contract which effectively barred him from marriage in order to secure continued employment. Having a pervasive organization (church) in the form of an educational institution makes it even worse.

      Also, judging by Mr. Fischer’s statements in the article, it doesn’t seem like he went into this naively; I doubt he thought he could become a teacher here and then change the school’s/church’s stance on it later. Despite his long tenure and positive relationships, he knew he would be on tenuous ground. While his firing might be a surprise to him, I highly doubt it was unexpected or unanticipated; similarly, I very much doubt he will be taking adverse action against the school for his firing (he would surely lose; religious freedom for the church)…. but this isn’t the point of the article nor is it it his perspective. I believe the article and Mr. Fischer are trying to bring light to the truly unfortunate position and actions the Diocese has taken and shed light on the disadvantages faced by gays in some workplaces.

      • SVI

        Thank you Guesterson08. Very Well said. Agreed one hundred times over!

      • What’s wrong here?

        You said the point of this news was to “bring light to the truly unfortunate position and actions the Diocese has taken.” Well last time I checked, this wasn’t the opinions column so there shouldn’t be a pro-homosexual agenda wrapped around this article (it would be ignorant of me to not recognize that’s not true here). My question is, why should the Church change their position on gay marriage because of the fickleness in society’s own moral code? What if all of a sudden, extreme example, society accepted murder as an acceptable form of dealing with problems (I’m NOT equating homosexuality with murder, just an example)?

        • Guesterson08

          Right. It isn’t the Opinions column. Just as there shouldn’t be a pro-homosexual agenda in this news story, there shouldn’t be an anti-homosexual agenda, either. I actually commend Student Life for publishing quite an unbiased piece of journalism that very easily could be slanted one way or the other. However, it’s also plain that if one was asked “What is the main idea of this story?,” the most likely answer would be a report on the reasons for an employee’s discharge and the employee’s feelings: feelings of disappointment, disadvantage, and inequity. A news story, and my analysis of the news story, can certainly shed light to the “unfortunate position and actions the Diocese has taken” without necessarily being slanted or agreeing with the positions and feelings of the employee.

          To your rhetorical questions: Highly irrelevant to the singular issue at hand.

        • jesusismyhomeboy

          “why should the Church change their position on gay marriage because of the fickleness in society’s own moral code?”

          a) fickleness in the moral code? moving towards equality and justice is fickle? those don’t seem like temporary values to me. they seem like possibly the most fundamental and permanent ones that humans have settled on.

          b) you want fickleness, look no further than the moral code of religions and catholicism in particular. more than fickleness, widespread and bald-faced bigotry that is, somehow, tolerated in our society.

    • John

      I think the legality of the contract is questionable.