A quiet battle over sports, faith and discrimination is being waged between two Portland-area private schools that have canceled all athletic matchups between their middle school teams.
Earlier this year, Catlin Gabel, a wealthy private school in Portland's West Hills, pulled its preteen athletes out of games with Faith Bible Christian School, a tiny nondenominational Christian school on the east side of Hillsboro.
Catlin Gabel says it did so after a parent informed the Catlin Gabel administration that some students and families may not feel welcome on Faith Bible's campus.
The reason? Faith Bible's explicit policy to reject students who come from homes with same-sex or transgender parents.
"Earlier this year, a member of the Catlin Gabel school community became aware of faith-based school policies at Faith Bible Christian School and asked us to re-evaluate our relationship with that school," says Ken DuBois, a spokesman for Catlin Gabel.
Faith Bible's policy raises questions about how far private, religiously affiliated institutions can go in making faith-based policies that discriminate against people who do not adhere to the same religious teachings.
"When Faith Bible Christian School chooses to reject students whose parents do not meet their religious definition of marriage or gender identity, they are using religion to discriminate," says Jann Carson, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. "In this case, we are particularly concerned about the dangerous message this sends to all youth at the school about LGBTQ people."
Indeed, Oregon has anti-discrimination laws that bar all public and some private entities from treating people unfairly because of their race, sex, religion or sexual orientation.
But the parochial school's mission to uphold Christian teachings cuts to the heart of a growing tension between anti-discrimination laws and freedom of religion in United States.
The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries declined to say whether a private religious school was legally protected in making such a rule. "Not every exclusionary, bigoted or offensive action is illegal under Oregon law, and every case is different," says BOLI spokeswoman Christine Lewis.
The written policy at Faith Bible clearly states that parents must belong to a union that fits the Bible's prescription for marriage.
"Because God has ordained marriage and defined it as the covenant relationship between a man, a woman, and Himself, Faith Bible Christian School will only recognize marriages between a biological man and a biological woman," says the 2017-18 student handbook. "Further, FBCS will only admit students who come from this family unit as defined herein, or from a single parent who is living within the standards outlined above."
The debate now presents a difficult decision for the largest regulatory body of interscholastic athletics in the state—which oversees sports at both Catlin Gabel and Faith Bible.
The Oregon School Activities Association, which organizes sporting events between 295 public and private schools, requires its member schools to subscribe to all of its policies. One of those policies is an anti-discrimination rule, says OSAA executive director Peter Weber.
Weber says the board will decide whether Faith Bible's marriage requirement violates this OSAA policy at its July board meeting.
The marriage policy sparked a series of back-and-forth conversations between administrators at Faith Bible and Catlin Gabel, who adamantly deny any form of "dispute" over the policy. But DuBois says the discussions led the progressive private school to drop its middle school games with the religious school.
"It was decided that Catlin Gabel would continue to play sports with Faith Bible Christian School at the high school level, but would not schedule optional non-league middle school games," DuBois said in a statement. "We consider this to be part of an evolving conversation; our position may change."
Administrators from Faith Bible did not respond to questions about their admissions policy, the canceled middle school games, or the OSAA board meeting in July.
In response to questions emailed by WW, Faith Bible superintendent Kevin Rex said, "Out of respect to Catlin Gabel, none of the officials from our school will comment on dialogue that has taken place between our schools as we seek a better understanding of the long-standing mission and core values of each organization."