Archdiocese of Indianapolis asks court to dismiss suit filed by gay teacher, citing First Amendment

Cathedral High School

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Archdiocese of Indianapolis filed a motion Wednesday, asking a court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a Cathedral High School teacher who was fired because of his same-sex marriage.

The Archdiocese argues that the lawsuit is barred by the First Amendment because it asks a secular court to interfere in the internal governance of the Catholic Church.

Jay Mercer, an attorney for the Archdiocese, says 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.

“This case strikes at the heart of the First Amendment’s protections for separation of church and state,” the Archdiocese wrote. “The Indiana Supreme Court could not have been any clearer over a century ago: ‘No power save that of the church can rightfully declare who is a Catholic.’”

Teachers at Cathedral sign a contract agreeing to be witnesses of Catholic principles in word and deed.

“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,” wrote the Archdiocese.

Eventually, the Archdiocese says it informed Cathedral that if it wished to remain affiliated with the Catholic Church, it could not continue to employ “a teacher who lived in open violation of Catholic teaching,” referring to Joshua Payne-Elliot. Cathedral then terminated Payne-Elliot on June 23.

Joshua Payne-Elliot

Payne-Elliot filed the lawsuit in July, arguing that his firing was discriminatory because the “morality clause” wasn’t a part of his contract that he signed in May. Payne-Elliot also filed discrimination charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

“We intend to hold the Archdiocese accountable for violations of state and federal law,” said  Payne-Elliot’s attorney, Kathleen DeLaney.

Payne-Elliot said he hopes this case will “put a stop to the targeting of LGBTQ employees and their families.”

The case is pending in Marion County Superior Court, and a ruling on the Archdiocese’s request is expected later this year.

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