The archdiocese pressured two schools into firing multiple gay employees. Now it says its decision is protected by the First Amendment.
The Archdiocese of Indianapolis cited the First Amendment as it asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a gay former counselor at Cathedral High School.
The Indianapolis Star reports that the archdiocese made its request Wednesday. The church is asking that a judge discard the suit, filed by Joshua Payne-Elliott in July. Payne-Elliott maintains that the Cathedral broke his employment contract to avoid being excommunicated by the Church.
The archdiocese’s argument—which does little to deny the claims—is that secular courts cannot interfere in internal church matters without running afoul of constitutional protections.
“This case strikes at the heart of the First Amendment’s protections for separation of church and state,” the archdiocese wrote.
The church is apparently trying to argue that, as a religious institution, it can set and enforce whatever rules it likes—free from consequence or interference, whether by the state or judiciary. At its schools, the archdiocese already requires employees to live according to Catholic doctrine. It similarly mandates that teachers, administrators and counselors sign ‘morality clauses,’ a practice which began four years ago.
But Payne-Elliott—who had an employment contract with Cathedral High School—says he never signed a morality clause. His attorney further argues that the matter has little to do with church doctrine and more to do with employee-employer relations and labor law.
“There was no contract between Mr. Payne-Elliott and the archdiocese,” said Kathleen DeLaney, Payne-Elliott’s attorney. “The archdiocese interfered in Mr. Payne-Elliott’s employment relationship with Cathedral High School. That’s what this case is about.”
Interestingly, Payne-Elliott’s husband also teaches at a Catholic school—the Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. The two men married in 2017. Shortly afterward, the archdiocese initiated a purge. It instructed Brebeuf and Cathedral to fire both men.
Brebeuf refused, prompting the archdiocese to strip it of its Catholic affiliation. Days later, recounts the Star, Cathedral opted to terminate Payne-Elliott’s employment to avoid the same fate.
The archdiocese is facing another lawsuit from former Roncalli High School guidance counselor Lynn Starkey, who is also gay. The Church has defended itself by claiming that its school exist primary to convey and instill certain religious values.
“Catholic schools exist to communicate the Catholic faith to the next generation,” the archdiocese said in response to Starkey’s suit. “To accomplish their mission, Catholic schools ask all teachers, administrators and guidance counselors to uphold the Catholic faith by word and action, both inside and outside the classroom.”
Both Starkey and Payne-Elliott’s lawsuits against the Church are still in process. Cathedral isn’t named as a defendant in Payne-Elliott’s suit, since he and the school reached a settlement.