Supreme Court Rules on Firing of Catholic School Teacher Over Same-Sex Marriage

OPINION: This article contains commentary which may reflect the author's opinion

Religious Freedom was upheld by the Indiana Supreme Court on Wednesday with a ruling that sided with the American Catholic Church in Indiana, which had terminated a man from his teaching position in an area Catholic school over the teacher’s dismissal of Catholic teachings about same-gender marriages, in this case, a male to another male.

It is essential to know that according to the US Constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

And Catholicism has religious beliefs about marriage.

According to For Your Marriage magazine, “Like the other sacraments, marriage is not just for the good of individuals, or the couple, but for the community as a whole.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage between two baptized persons is a sacrament. The Old Testament prophets saw the marriage of a man and woman as a symbol of the covenant relationship between God and his people.

The permanent and exclusive union between husband and wife mirrors the mutual commitment between God and his people. The Letter to the Ephesians says that this union is a symbol of the relationship between Christ and the Church.”

The headlines were that ‘Indiana Supreme Court Upholds Firing Of Catholic School Teacher Over Same-Sex Marriage whe the Indiana Supreme Court this week issued a ruling’ and as independent reporters notice, ‘that is not likely to go over well on the left.’

“On Wednesday, the justices ruled 4-0 in favor of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis in upholding the firing of former high school teacher Joshua Payne-Elliott in 2019 due to his same-sex marriage.

The justices agreed with the archdiocese that the Catholic Church is protected in its action under the First Amendment’s freedom of religion guarantee,” Jon Doughtery reported for Conservative Brief.

“Religious freedom protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution encompasses the right of religious institutions ‘to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine,’” Justice Geoffrey Slaughter wrote, as the justices reaffirmed the Church’s right to operate under its sincerely held religious beliefs free from state interference.

“Courts can’t decide what it means to be Catholic—only the Church can do that,” noted Luke Goodrich, VP & senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the firm representing the archdiocese.

“By keeping the judiciary out of religious identity, the Indiana Supreme Court just protected all religious institutions to be free from government interference in deciding their core religious values,” he added.

“Today, the Indiana Supreme Court unanimously threw out the lawsuit. As Justice Slaughter explained:

The “Constitution encompasses the right of religious institutions ‘to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government.’

“Citing a previous case, Slaughter added: “Religious freedom protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution encompasses the right of religious institutions ‘to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine,’” Beckernews reported.

Doughtery pointed readers to the Daily Wire, Daily Wire who covered the story with more details:

The history of the case reaches back to 2017 when Payne-Elliott married Layton Payne-Elliott, a math teacher at another school. In 2019, Payne-Elliott was terminated from his job as a teacher at Catholic Cathedral High School in Indianapolis over entering into a same-sex marriage in violation of church teachings.

Payne-Elliott sued the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

His spouse worked as a teacher at another area school, Brebeuf Jesuit, that declined to fire him over the same issue. On June 21, 2020, the Archbishop determined that Brebeuf Jesuit could no longer use the Catholic name and would not be recognized as a Catholic institution.

“Specifically, Brebeuf Jesuit has respectfully declined the Archdiocese’s insistence and directive that we dismiss a highly capable and qualified teacher due to the teacher being a spouse within a civilly-recognized same-sex marriage,” the letter to parents, teachers, and staff continued.

“To our knowledge, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ direct insertion into an employment matter of a school governed by a religious order is unprecedented; this is a unique action among the more than 80 Jesuit secondary/pre-secondary schools which operate in dioceses throughout North America, along with the countless Catholic schools operated by other religious orders such as the Christian Brothers, Dominicans, and Xaverian Brothers,” it added.

In response, the Archdiocese noted to WRTV: ” To effectively bear witness to Christ, whether they teach religion or not, all ministers in their professional and private lives must convey and be supportive of Catholic Church teaching.

“In the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, every archdiocesan Catholic school and private Catholic school has been instructed to clearly state in its contracts and ministerial job descriptions that all ministers must convey and be supportive of all teachings of the Catholic Church,” the reply continued.

“Regrettably, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School has freely chosen not to enter into such agreements that protect the important ministry of communicating the fullness of Catholic teaching to students. Therefore, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School will no longer be recognized as a Catholic institution by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.”

Initially, a trial court in the state dismissed the lawsuit as requested by the Archdiocese. However, Payne-Elliot appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals, where the lower court’s dismissal was reversed. The case was further appealed to the state Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously for the defendant.

“The court’s decision today was a commonsense ruling in favor of our most fundamental rights,” Goodrich added. “Religious schools will only be able to pass down the faith to the next generation if they can freely receive guidance from their churches on what their faith is. We are grateful the court recognized this healthy form of separation of Church and state.”

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