Indiana Supreme Court allows gay Catholic school teacher to be fired

According to a recent Indiana court ruling, discrimination based on sexual orientation is permitted and, in fact, is alive and well in the state.

A Catholic teacher at Cathedral High School was fired in 2019 by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for marrying her husband. The Indiana Supreme Court has now upheld the decision, Indy Star reports.

Using the doctrine of church autonomy under the First Amendment, the court ruled that the school was protected by firing Joshua Payne-Elliott.

“The religious liberty protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution includes the right of religious institutions” to decide for themselves, without interference from the state, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine,” the four participating judges said.

When Joshua Payne-Elliott was fired from a Catholic school in June 2019, the archdiocese required all Catholic schools under its jurisdiction to enforce a morality clause banning same-sex marriages, leading to his lawsuit alleging a wrongful dismissal. According to Payne-Elliott, the action was fundamentally discriminatory.

He says the archdiocese interfered with the school’s contract and employment relationship, which led to his dismissal.

In the November 2021 ruling, a the state appeals court agreed with Payne-Elliott, stating that the Marion County Superior Court erred in dismissing the lawsuit.

In 2019, Trump’s Justice Department deposit a “statement of interest” in the case, indicating his support for the school’s ability to discriminate against LGBTQ+ spouses.

Payne-Elliott, who had worked at the school since 2006, married Layton Payne-Elliott, a teacher at Jesuit Brebeuf Preparatory School, in 2017. The two were such a target of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis that when the When Bebeuf School refused to comply with the dismissal directive, the archdiocese attempted to strip the institution of its Catholic status.

Court documents claimed the First Amendment prohibited secular courts from interfering in church affairs, according to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

The church argues it has the right to impose such rules in this lawsuit, as well as in two others brought against it by former employees fired for same-sex marriages.

Payne-Elliott’s lawsuit alleges that by doing so, the church interfered with its relationship with the cathedral, which was a contract with the school, not the church.

Lawyers for the archdiocese issued a press release celebrating Wednesday’s decision.

“Today’s court decision was a common sense decision in favor of our most basic human rights,” attorney Luke Goodrich wrote in a press release.. “Religious schools will only be able to pass on the faith to the next generation if they can freely receive guidance from their churches on what their faith is. We are grateful that the court recognized this healthy form of separation of church and state.

It is unclear whether the case will be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

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