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Indiana Supreme Court Okays Catholic School Firing of Gay Teacher

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Because he married a spouse of the same sex, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis fired a longtime teacher from one of its schools.

According to a recent ruling by an Indiana court, discrimination based on sexual orientation is permissible and, in fact, is alive and well in the state.

A Catholic school teacher at Cathedral High School was fired in 2019 by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis over his marriage to his husband. The Indiana Supreme Court now upheld the decision, Indy Star reports.

Using the doctrine of church autonomy under the First Amendment, the court ruled that the school was protected in firing Joshua Payne-Elliott.

"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,'" the four participating justices ruled.

When Joshua Payne-Elliott was terminated from a Catholic school in June 2019, the archdiocese required all Catholic schools within its purview to enforce a morality clause prohibiting same-sex marriages, which led to his lawsuit alleging wrongful termination. According to Payne-Elliott, the action was discriminatory at its core.

He says the archdiocese interfered with the school's contract and employment relationship, leading to his termination.

In November 2021 ruling, a state appeals court agreed with Payne-Elliott, indicating that the Superior Court in Marion County had erred in dismissing the lawsuit.

In 2019, the Trump Department of Justice filed a "Statement of Interest" in the case, indicating its support for the ability of the school to discriminate against LGBTQ+ spouses.

Payne-Elliott, who had worked at the school since 2006, married Layton Payne-Elliott, a Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School teacher, in 2017. The two have been such a target of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis that when Bebeuf school refused to comply with the firing directive, the archdiocese tried to strip the institution of its Catholic status.

Court documents asserted that the First Amendment prohibits secular courts from interfering in church affairs, according to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

The church argues that it has the right to impose such rules in this lawsuit, as well as two others filed against it by ex-employees fired for same-sex marriages.

Payne-Elliott's lawsuit alleges that by doing so, the church interfered with his relationship with Cathedral, which was a contract with the school, not the church.

Archdiocese lawyers released a press release celebrating Wednesday's ruling.

"The court's decision today was a commonsense ruling in favor of our most fundamental rights," attorney Luke Goodrich wrote in a press release. "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."

It is unclear whether the case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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