The ideological left has increasingly attempted in recent years to force religious institutions to not simply accept and tolerate but actually embrace and promote various secular beliefs that are antithetical to the sincerely held beliefs and doctrines of their respective faith.
That violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, however, as the Indiana Supreme Court just reminded everyone in a case involving a Catholic school that fired a gay teacher in a same-sex marriage, the Washington Examiner reported.
Fired for violation of church doctrine
At issue here was a lawsuit filed by Joshua Payne-Elliot against Cathedral Catholic High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, a school where Payne-Elliot had worked as a teacher for 13 years before he was fired in 2019 over a same-sex marriage he had entered in 2017.
The teacher had been fired following an order handed down from the Catholic archdiocese that instructed all Catholic schools within its jurisdiction to strictly enforce its morality clause for employees — which bans same-sex marriage as being against the Church’s teachings — or risk losing the support of the archdiocese and ability to be a “Catholic” school.
Payne-Elliot sued and argued that the archdiocese had inappropriately interfered with his contract and employment status since his contract had been with the school and not the Church.
Case dismissed, but the option to refile left open
The lawsuit had been dismissed by a lower court and then reversed by an appeals court before ending up in the Indiana Supreme Court, which said in its unanimous decision that the initial dismissal had been correct, albeit not under the proper rule, and ultimately sided with the archdiocese.
At play here is what is known as the church-autonomy doctrine under the First Amendment, which asserts that secular interests can’t interfere with the inner workings of a religious institution, in this case, the archdiocese and the Catholic school.
Ultimately, the court ruled that the church is free to govern itself in accordance with its beliefs, and that “the archdiocese’s decision whether a school maintains its Catholic identity is an internal matter that concerns both church policy and administration.”
That said, given that the initial dismissal had been deemed improper because the lower court had cited an incorrect rule, the dismissal was reiterated under the proper rule and Payne-Elliot was granted an opportunity to amend his initial complaint and refile his lawsuit.
Kathleen Delaney, the attorney for Payne-Elliot, told the Examiner that while they were obviously disappointed in the high court’s ruling, they were nonetheless pleased that it “expressly allows Payne-Elliott to restart his case by filing a new complaint,” and that discussions were already underway on new arguments that could be used for a new lawsuit.
The court made the right decision
Meanwhile, Luke Goodrich of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which argued on behalf of the archdiocese, said in a statement, “Courts can’t decide what it means to be Catholic — only the Church can do that. 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.”
“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.”