INDIANAPOLIS — Catholic Church leaders in Indianapolis are citing the First Amendment as a defense to a lawsuit filed by a teacher who was fired because he’s in a same-sex marriage.
The Archdiocese of Indianapolis asked a judge Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit by Joshua Payne-Elliott, who worked at Cathedral High School for 13 years. The school fired him in June on orders from the archdiocese.
“Teachers at Cathedral sign a contract agreeing to be witnesses of Catholic principles in word and deed,” said a statement from the archdiocese. “When a teacher at Cathedral publicly entered a same-sex marriage in violation of his contract and of Catholic teaching, the Archdiocese spent almost two years in dialogue with Cathedral to discern the most appropriate pastoral response.”
Eventually, the archdiocese informed the school that if it wished to remain affiliated with the Catholic Church, it could not continue employing a teacher who lived in open violation of Catholic teaching.
Payne-Elliott says the Church illegally interfered in his contract with the school. But in a court filing, the archdiocese says its decisions are protected by the First Amendment and the separation of church and state.
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that churches have a constitutional right to determine rules for religious schools, and that religious schools have a constitutional right to hire leaders who support the schools’ religious mission,” said Jay Mercer, attorney for the archdiocese. “Families rely on the archdiocese to uphold the fullness of Catholic social teaching throughout its schools, and the Constitution fully protects the Church’s efforts to do so.”
Payne-Elliott’s spouse, Layton Payne-Elliott, teaches at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis. Brebeuf refused to fire Layton. The archdiocese said it no longer recognizes Brebeuf as a Catholic institution.
Crux staff contributed to this report.
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