Incentive for PND students to attend marriage rally causes major controversy

By Audrey Williams

February 15, 2013 Updated Feb 15, 2013 at 11:07 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- A rally in support of traditional marriage is set to take place in Springfield on Wednesday, February 20. A teacher at Peoria's Catholic Notre Dame High School is encouraging students to attend and has even offered an incentive. This decision is causing controversy.

Peoria Notre Dame President, Monsignor Mark Merdian, confirms a letter was sent to several students from Sister Sarah, a teacher at the school. It stated in part, "Next Wed we will be traveling to Springfield at the request of our Bishop, in order to stand up against a bill that is seeking to redefine marriage, which will have many consequences...I will give 20 points extra credit for any of you that would like to attend."

The letter states that students can miss school and travel by bus to the state capitol for $20.

"So Sister was commenting on that how important and how profound this decision is. So it's important that we do support marriage, it's one of the truths of our faith, it's one of the sacraments that we celebrate. It's something that we're very much unapologetic for because it's something that we think is good for the building of society," said Monsignor Merdian.

Monsignor Merdian said he sees it as an opportunity to learn and broaden students' prospective on the issue.

"This was not thought of as anything other than helping our students to understand the church's teaching on this on this point and how essential it is to the future of our world and the future of family and family life," he said.

Ashley Clarke, a practicing Catholic and an open lesbian, said she was appalled when she heard about the letter. She believes the bible is wrong when it says a marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

Clarke said, "As a lesbian I believe that God made us who we are and if we love someone we should be able to marry whoever we feel like marrying."

Peoria Notre Dame School officials said they have heard support from parents, but also some opposition.

"Even though individuals may have different beliefs, the church always loves individuals such as that. Jesus said hate the sin, but love the sinner," said Monsignor Merdian.

School officials said Sister Sarah has apologized for the controversy the letter has created. Peoria Notre Dame Principal Charlie Roy said the option for extra credit has been taken away.

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