The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously ruled Wednesday in favor of Catholic schools under the Archdiocese of Indianapolis who fired a teacher because of his same-sex marriage.
Joshua Payne-Elliott, a former teacher at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, sued the archdiocese after he was fired in 2019 for entering a same-sex marriage in 2017, breaking the school’s contract that prohibits same-sex relationships, according to the court opinion. The court ruled in favor of the archdiocese, which ordered the school to fire Payne-Elliot for breaking the contract. (RELATED: Sunday School Teacher Sentenced To 87 Years For Child Sex Crimes)
“The archdiocese’s decision whether a school maintains its Catholic identity is an internal matter that concerns both church policy and administration,” the opinion stated.
Payne-Elliott said the archdiocese forced the school, which he had taught at for 13 years, to fire him, the opinion stated. Payne-Elliott’s husband Layton was also eventually fired from Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis, even though the school first defied the orders from the archdiocese to terminate his employment.
Archbishop Charles Thompson issued a decree saying that if the schools kept both teachers on staff, they would no longer be considered or recognized as a Catholic school, according to the opinion.
“This is really important example of properly having separation of church and state properly understood, because when you have an archdiocese or some other church body, giving instruction and guidance to a religious school, that’s one of its ministries,” Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “It’s very important for it that the government doesn’t insert itself into that dialogue and relationship between the church and its ministry and the way it’s working out its faith and living its faith in its religious schools.”
Despite being aware of Payne-Elliott’s relationship in 2017, the school extended his contract through the 2020 school year, the opinion stated. After his firing, Cathedral High School settled with Payne-Elliott, who then eventually filed the lawsuit.
“While we are disappointed by today’s decision, we would like to make clear that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis ordered the school to breach my valid, legal employment contract – a contract that the school had renewed three times after the school was aware of the relationship,” Payne-Elliott said in a Wednesday news release shared with the DCNF.
The Archdiocese of Indianapolis did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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