Church school wins right to hire teachers voicing biblical teachings

 May 8, 2024

This story was originally published by the WND News Center.

A federal appeals court has affirmed the right of religious schools to hire teachers who abide by their faith doctrines. And not use those who don't.

It is Becket that announced a decision from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that allows the Diocese of Charlotte to not use a former substitute teacher who sued.

That teacher had entered a same-sex union and promoted his status on social media, flaunting his disagreement with the Catholic school's standards.

The school decided then not to use his services as a substitute in the future.

Becket explained the court ruling "reaffirmed the diocese’s freedom to choose teachers who will uphold and help pass on the faith to the next generation."

The Catholic school system has operated in the region for more than 50 years, and it includes 20 schools providing "a top-notch education that also helps students grow in the Catholic faith, making the opportunity widely available to students of all backgrounds in part through generous financial aid," Becket noted.

"To ensure teachers are helping the diocese fulfill its mission, the diocese asks all of its teachers – Catholic and non-Catholic – to uphold the Catholic faith in word and deed."

The case was brought by Lonnie Billard, who previously taught English and drama at Charlotte Catholic High before retiring and offering his services as to substitute.

He had signed a contract agreeing to uphold church teachings.

But, "in knowing violation" he entered a same-sex union and wrote about it on social media.

The school stopped calling him, and he sued.

The court explained the First Amendment requires civil courts to '"stay out' of employment disputes involving ministers," and in this situation, Billard "was a minister because Charlotte Catholic required all its teachers to 'model and promote Catholic faith and morals.'"

That meant Billard's lawsuit was at an end.

"The Supreme Court has been crystal clear on this issue: Catholic schools have the freedom to choose teachers who fully support Catholic teaching," said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which represents the diocese in the case. "This is a victory for people of all faiths who cherish the freedom to pass on their faith to the next generation."

ADF lawyer John Bursch said, "Religious schools should be allowed to employ teachers and administrators who share the same goals, views, and values that adhere to their religion, and the 4th Circuit’s decision upholds that fundamental freedom. The court rightly recognized that the ability of religious schools to make employment decisions based on their beliefs is ‘grounded…in constitutional structure’ and that religious employers should be free to operate without fear of punishment by government officials or courts."

The ruling said, "Our court has recognized before that seemingly secular tasks like the teaching of English and drama may be so imbued with religious significance that they implicate the ministerial exception…we think the principle carries through The ministerial exception protects religious institutions in their dealings with individuals who perform tasks so central to their religious missions – even if the tasks themselves do not advertise their religious nature."

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