Indiana court sides with gay Catholic school teacher fired for same-sex marriage

Layton and Joshua Payne-Elliott – Photo: Kathleen DeLaney

An Indiana appeals court sided with a gay teacher fired from his job at a Catholic high school for being married to another man, saying a lower court erred in dismissing the human trial.

Joshua Payne-Elliott, a former professor of world languages ​​and social studies at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis from 2006 to 2019, was fired after officials from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, particularly Archbishop Charles Thompson , learned that he had married her husband, Layton Payne. Elliott, in 2017.

Thompson ordered the cathedral and the Brébeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, where Layton worked as a teacher, to fire the men or risk losing their “Catholic identity.” The Archdiocese has also sought to push all Catholic schools in the Archdiocese to enforce a morality clause that prohibits employees from engaging in any behavior in their personal lifestyle that goes against the teachings of the church. .

While Brébeuf chose to assume the consequences and refused to dismiss Layton Payne-Elliott, thus accepting to be stripped of their designation of “Catholic” school officially recognized by the archdiocese, Cathedral bowed to order. Joshua Payne-Elliott then filed a lawsuit, claiming the Archdiocese illegally interfered with his contractual and professional relationship with Cathedral, directly resulting in his dismissal.

The archdiocese had argued that the lawsuit against him should be dismissed, as religious institutions are protected by a “ministerial exception” – stemming from the right to the free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution – which allows them to fire employees, such as teachers, who are considered ministers of the faith, who do not respect the teaching of the Catholic Church in their personal lives. She also used this argument in two other lawsuits brought against her by employees involved in same-sex marriages.

In May, Marion County Superior Court Judge Lance Hamner dismissed Payne-Elliott’s lawsuit on the grounds that the ministerial exception allows the Archdiocese to determine who it chooses to employ, regardless of local laws , state or federal non-discrimination. Payne-Elliott then appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals, arguing his contract was with the cathedral, not the church.

See also: Brooklyn Diocese fires gay Catholic school teacher for marrying husband

On Tuesday, a three-judge panel ruled that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case and that it was too early in the process to dismiss the case for summary judgment. The panel also found that Hamner erred in dismissing the lawsuit with prejudice, which prevented Payne-Elliott from re-filing the case in this court, according to the Indianapolis Star.

The appeal court decision allows Payne-Elliott to pursue his case on the merits against the archdiocese for breach of contract.

While courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have historically given religious institutions wide latitude, allowing them to flout anti-discrimination laws under the ministerial exception, a North Carolina federal judge has ruled in September that a Catholic school had unlawfully dismissed a gay man. substitute teacher after announcing his intention to marry his longtime male partner. The court ruled in that case that the ministerial exception did not prevent the school from being prosecuted under federal law for discrimination based on sex.

Such a move gives hope to many LGBTQ teachers and coaches who have violated Catholic teachings on same-sex marriage, but claim that the Church has selectively enforced morality clauses or contracts against LGBTQ people, for example opposition to other employees living “sinful” lifestyles. .

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