OCALA, Fla. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Florida teacher reprimanded for providing the writings of St. John Bosco to his religion class may lose his job over the incident.
Back in February, Mark Smythe, a sixth-grade religion and social studies teacher at Blessed Trinity Catholic School in the Orlando diocese, was praying in the church during eucharistic adoration when he noticed a pamphlet containing St. John Bosco's text The Catholic Educated in His Religion. Realizing he had to prepare a history lesson on Islam for class, he copied the pamphlet and handed it out to his students. A parent of a student eventually shared a copy with a Muslim friend.
This Muslim, whose child does not currently attend the school and was not present for the lesson, provided the materials to the Huffington Post through the Documenting Hate initiative. The ensuing media frenzy led Jacquelyn Flannigan, the associate superintendent of schools in the diocese of Orlando, to issue a statement to the Huffington Post on April 19 noting that "we have spoken to the principal of Blessed Trinity Catholic School, Ocala and to the teacher in question and have reprimanded the teacher for this unfortunate exhibit of disrespect."
Church Militant spoke with Henry Farro, Smythe's lawyer, who provided copies of the correspondence between the diocese and school. The memo said the incident was an "embarrassment to Blessed Trinity School, the office of schools and the bishop's office. Mr. Smythe must receive a letter of reprimand." The memo was approved by Henry Fortier, Superintendent of Schools, and Theresa Simon, Chief Operations Officer of the Board of Directors for the diocese of Orlando.
The text of the reprimand letter to Smythe was written by the diocese, and the school demanded that Smythe sign the reprimand letter acknowledging his wrongdoing. Smythe refused to do so, and instead secured a lawyer.
A source close to Smythe spoke with Church Militant to dispel the false claims of bigotry against Smythe and showcase the one-sided nature of the media campaign against the teacher. The source told Church Militant that neither Huffington Post, Ocala Star-Banner nor the diocese of Orlando spoke directly with Smythe about the incident, but rather disciplined him merely for the fact of passing out St. John Bosco's writings. The diocese of Orlando did contact the school but only to inquire about Smythe's character, and not to learn about the context of the lesson.
The source confirmed that Smythe denied any wrongdoing and refused to sign the reprimand letter. In a follow-up meeting with Fr. Patrick J. Sheedy, pastor of Blessed Trinity Church and School, Smythe again refused to sign the reprimand, leaving his future employment at the school in question.
In a letter to the school written by Farro, Smythe's lawyer, on April 28, Farro asserts that his client was "engaged in performing the job for which he was hired," as described in the forward of the school's textbook All Ye Lands: "[W]e, their teachers and parents, cannot allow our children to be ignorant of the origins of the Faith or the beliefs of other cultures in an increasingly hostile world."
Farro's letter also requests that the school define the Church's teaching on Islam and asks "whether current Catholic Teaching encourages abandonment of Catholic Teachings and the works/deeds of Catholic Saints?"
Refuting the claim that Smythe's actions were marked by "hurtful and derogatory language against other faith communities," Farro asks: "[Is] it derogatory to teach a lesson using the writings of a Catholic Saint?"
Farro argues that "interreligious dialog does not mean that we, as Catholics, have to be ignorant of history or current events or be scared to teach history and religion that is aligned with the truths taught by our Faith."
He went on to insist that Smythe "has not violated any teaching of the Church nor has he violated any part of his contract nor has he engaged in teaching any content that is not grounded in the current teachings of the Catholic Church."
Church Militant learned that Blessed Trinity Church is a tithing parish with weekly collections in the order of $80,000.
Smythe is described by friends as "intensely" and "unapologetically" Catholic. A musician in his spare time, anyone who meets him will know immediately he lives his faith openly. Smythe does have support through some staff members and parents. He is also reportedly well loved by his students.
If Smythe is not fired directly, his contract may not be renewed for the 2017–2018 school year, leaving him with no way to provide for his wife and three children. To encourage Smythe and raise awareness of the bias against him, friends have created a SupportMarkSmythe Facebook page and a Twitter account: #StandwithMark.