Vouchers awards public Ohio tax dollars to discriminatory private religious schools

September 19, 2023 4:30 am

Graphic by WEWS.

Public financing of parochial school prejudice is the law in Ohio. Take a minute to process, I’ll wait. The state has opened its coffers to Catholic schools that discriminate. The overwhelming amount of Ohio’s voucher money — free taxpayer money to offset private and religious school tuition — goes to Catholic schools. 

The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland receives a ton of voucher funding. It just announced a new anti-LGBTQ+ policy in its 84 private religious schools that is blatantly discriminatory. Your tax dollars at work. Against the LGBTQ+ community. Against highly vulnerable LGBTQ+ youth. 

Turns out the Church’s “all are welcome” spin is a conditional precept based on strict adherence to unchristian bigotry. Church leaders in Cleveland put their flock on notice that the universal invitation of acceptance may be rescinded to those who “openly express disagreement with Church teaching on matters of sex, sexuality, and/or gender in an inappropriate or scandalous way.” 

The way Jesus turned nonconformists away.  

From here on out, Catholic policy in Cleveland elementary and high schools — that rake in millions in taxpayer-funded vouchers — states that every person is expected “to present and conduct themselves in a manner consistent with their God-given biological sex” or face disciplinary action. Apparently, inclusive, affirming, nonjudgmental love is overrated.

The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland aligned itself with “culture war” extremists attacking people who can’t fight back. When an institution as influential as the Cleveland diocese rolled out sweeping prohibitions on LGBTQ+ expression and support in its diocesan-run and parish schools, it effectively blessed the record wave of hateful anti-LGBTQ+ bills being introduced by right-wing politicians in Ohio and Republican statehouses across the country (500 and counting).

I imagine Pope Francis’ heart sinking with every such rightward lurch of an American diocese adopting rigidity over humanity. In a recent conversation with Jesuits in Portugal, Francis bemoaned the “contorted” mentality of some “reactionary” sectors in the U.S. Catholic hierarchy that forms “something closed, disconnected from the roots of the Church.” 

“Instead of living by doctrine, by the true doctrine that always develops and bears fruit, they live by ideologies.” The isolating “climate of closure” among some in the United States is “backward-looking,” said Francis, “and the effects on morality are devastating.” The door is not open to everyone.  

“Ideology replaces faith, membership of a sector of the Church replaces membership of the Church.” Unyielding dogma replaces unconditional tolerance. The ostracizing LGBTQ+ school policy implemented Catholic Diocese of Cleveland is Exhibit A.

Cleveland Bishop Edward Malesic penned a hollow letter to justify the mission of institutional shunning “in the spirit of truth and charity.” He noted “we are experiencing a polarizing and tense time in our culture,” then proceeded to make things worse. Taking a page from the hard-right playbook, he implemented draconian bans to officially diminish the LGBTQ+ community and erase its existence on diocesan property. 

The diocese’s LGBTQ+ school ban imposes restrictions on gender-affirming care, dress, use of pronouns, use of bathrooms that do not correspond with one’s biological sex at birth, with expressing or celebrating LGBTQ+ identity and more. Students, faculty, and staff are prohibited from displaying symbols like pride flags or rainbows, attending school dances with same-sex partners, or outwardly identifying as LGBTQ+ in any manner that does not uphold “the truth of God’s created reality.”

Sexual orientations or identities, like lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, are not recognized and chalked up to “gender confusion.” Marginalizing the confused with policy to disappear them, was portrayed by the diocese as being divinely inspired. “We must accompany our brothers and sisters in Christ with compassion, mercy, and dignity so that we might lovingly help them navigate the confusion and arrive at truth,” said Bishop Malesic.

There is nothing compassionate, merciful or dignified about the bishop’s punishing dictates.

Not to drummed out students denied acceptance. It “forces LGBTQ+ kids to hide their authentic selves and attend school in fear of persecution for who they are,” tweeted Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, who grew up in the diocese. He blasted the exclusionary policy as “a shocking betrayal of the Church teachings that have shaped who I am today.” 

Equality Ohio, a statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group, called upon the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland to reconsider its school policy against inclusion and basic civil rights “to ensure that Ohio remains a place where diversity is celebrated” and where “every individual, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity” is treated equally with respect and understanding.

The organization also asserted that a “majority of Ohioans affirm and support LGBTQ+ youth” and suggested “precious tax dollars shouldn’t be allocated to institutions that promote discrimination and seek to deny students their civil rights.” In other words, bishop, if you insist on cultivating a culture of exclusion, outing, suppression, and discrimination, do it on your own dime. 

Public financing of parochial school prejudice is not okay. Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize religious cruelty in classrooms governed by an intolerant Church. Yet the crush of 

Catholic schools in Ohio angling to get on the gravy train of free state money has already pushed voucher costs over budget estimates and the program could blow past its projected billion dollar price tag.  

Your tax dollars at work. In the name of God. Against the humanity of LGBTQ+ people. 



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Marilou Johanek
Marilou Johanek

Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.