May 14, 2021

Judge dismisses lawsuit against archdiocese by former Cathedral teacher

By Sean Gallagher

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis won a significant freedom of religion victory on May 7 in Marion County Superior Court.

On that day, Judge Lance Hamner dismissed a lawsuit by a former teacher at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis challenging the Church’s freedom to ensure that teachers in its schools faithfully adhere to and promote Catholic teachings.

“Catholic schools exist to uphold the dignity of all persons, including those who experience same-sex attraction, and to teach the Catholic faith to the next generation,” read a statement issued by the archdiocese after the dismissal. “To accomplish this religious mission, Catholic schools ask their educators to uphold the Catholic faith in word and deed.

“If a school’s educators oppose core aspects of the Catholic faith, it undermines the school’s ability to accomplish its mission.”

Representing the archdiocese in the lawsuit is Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, a Washington-based religious liberty law firm.

“If the First Amendment means anything, it means the government can’t punish the Catholic Church for asking Catholic educators to support Catholic teaching,” said Goodrich. “This has always been a very simple case, because the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed the freedom of religious schools to choose teachers who support their religious faith.”

In 2017, the teacher, Joshua Payne-Elliot, entered into a same-sex union against his employment agreement and the teachings of the Church. For nearly two years, the archdiocese took part in dialogue and discernment with Cathedral on how best to resolve this situation in accord with Church teaching and canon law.

In 2019, the archdiocese informed Cathedral that, in order to remain affiliated with the Church, it could no longer employ teachers who did not adhere to Church teaching. The high school then chose to separate from Payne-Elliot.

He then filed suit against the archdiocese claiming that it illegally interfered in his employment agreement with Cathedral when it sought to ensure that teachers at Cathedral and in Catholic schools in central and southern Indiana were faithful to Church teaching.

In arguing that the case should be dismissed, Goodrich cited a number of rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court that, in accord with religious liberty enshrined in the First Amendment, establish a religious organization’s freedom to ensure that its mission is carried out faithfully by those who minister in it free from governmental and judicial interference.

Richard Garnett, Paul J. Schierl/Fort Howard Corporation professor of law and director of the Notre Dame Program on Church, State and Society at the University of Notre Dame in northern Indiana, said the dismissal is encouraging for those who value religious liberty.

“This order [of dismissal] is consistent with the principle of church-state separation, correctly understood, and also with the constitutional right of religious communities to pursue their religious missions, even when doing so is unpopular,” Garnett said. “Religious freedom necessarily includes the right of religious communities, schools, hospitals, and social-welfare agencies to be distinctively religious.”

In a tweet posted on the day of the dismissal, Goodrich emphasized how the order ensures religious organizations remain free from governmental interference when choosing who will teach the faith.

“It is important that courts consistently uphold the right of religious groups to operate by their religious principles,” he said. “Choosing who teaches in a religious school is a religious decision. Today’s order ensures that those decisions will be made by churches, not governments.”

According to an article published by the Indianapolis Star, Payne-Elliot is considering appealing the dismissal of his lawsuit. †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!