Justice Department supports archdiocese’s right to fire teacher in same-sex marriage

Keywords Education / Law

The U.S. Justice Department filed a statement in court Friday saying the Archdiocese of Indianapolis was within its rights when it fired a Cathedral High School teacher in a same-sex marriage.

The Justice Department’s so-called “statement of interest” said the First Amendment prevents courts from impairing the constitutional rights of religious institutions.

“If the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses stand for anything, it is that secular courts cannot entangle themselves in questions of religious law,” U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler said in a prepared statement.

The Justice Department decided to weigh in after former Cathedral High School teacher Joshua Payne-Elliott sued the archdiocese in July. The archdiocese had said it dismissed the teacher because his same-sex marriage was in conflict with the Catholic teaching on marriage.

The archdiocese had given Cathedral an ultimatum: Fire Payne-Elliott or lose its Catholic affiliation.

In his suit, Payne-Elliott, who is married to a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, sought unspecified damages for lost earnings and emotional distress.

The school renewed his annual teaching contract on May 21. Then on June 23, Cathedral’s president told him he was being fired on order of the archdiocese. Payne-Elliott had taught there 13 years. Brebeuf Jesuit received a similar directive to fire Payne-Elliott’s husband and chose not to. It’s now appealing the archdiocese’s directive.

In its statement of interest, the Justice Department said Payne-Elliott’s lawsuit attempts to penalize the archdiocese for determining that schools within its diocese cannot employ teachers in public, same-sex marriages and simultaneously identify as Catholic. U.S. Supreme Court precedent “clearly holds” that the First Amendment protects the archdiocese’s right to this form of expressive association, and courts cannot interfere with that right, the Justice Department said.

“The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right of religious institutions and people to decide what their beliefs are, to teach their faith, and to associate with others who share their faith,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a prepared statement. “The First Amendment rightly protects the free exercise of religion.”

A statement of interest explains the United States’ interest in a pending case, but the Justice Department is not a plaintiff or defendant in Payne-Elliott’s lawsuit.

Payne-Elliott’s attorney, Kathleen DeLaney, could not immediately be reached for comment.

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20 thoughts on “Justice Department supports archdiocese’s right to fire teacher in same-sex marriage

    1. Exactly, no big surprise from a DT appointee. We’ll see what the court thinks about discriminatory employment practices from a religious school that accepts state aid in the form of school vouchers. I think if you take the money from the state, you can’t stick to your “state must not interfere with the church” argument. But I’m not a lawyer.

      I’m just a person that thinks the Archbishop is not acting very Christ-like. And that God made all people the way he made them. Being gay is not a choice, nor will it be eventually be viewed as a grievous sin in the achingly-slow-to-evolve church. Used to be a sin to do many dozens of things in the Old Testament. Jesus brought us a new way – love they neighbor as thyself.

      Or maybe we should go back to plucking the eye out of a man who has caused injury to another man. Or cut off the hand of a thief. Or many of the other edicts that *only some* of the ultra-orthodox Muslims continue to this day. We don’t seem to have any problem with Saudi Arabia chopping off hundreds of heads and crucifixions in the last few weeks. Or indiscriminately bombing the heck out of civilians in Yemen using the weapons we sold to them for that specific purpose.

      Or killing and dismembering a US resident journalist who didn’t line up with MBS. Oh… that’s old and forgotten/ forgiven news by now, right? After all, DT says they’re buying a bunch of military equipment from us, so the h&ll with human rights and the rule of law, when there’s money to be made.

    2. Grover, since the Bible was definitely NOT written by a group of guys… but was inspired by a perfect, all knowing super natural being, why would it need to evolve? Oh, and in the kinder gentler New Testament, you must have stopped reading before you got to the book of Revelations

    3. Chuck W. – So when there’s an internal conflict between the OT book for originally meant for just Jewish believers, and the NT book for Christians, which prevails? Too many examples to cite about Jesus saying, mostly to the die-hard religious zealots, paraphrasing “I am bringing a new way to look at things, and hate and punishment for not adhering to a litany of strictures is no longer the way of believing in God.” Mark 12:31: “And the second is like, namely this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” Chuck, you need to purge your hatefulness from your soul.

      As to the Book of Revelations, this is surely one of the most controversial books of the bible and open to long-standing and deeply divided debate about meaning, context, etc. So, please expand upon your admonition that I failed to include Revelations in my thinking that Jesus’ message was love, not hate; acceptance, not rejection.

    4. John, you are so clever! You need your own news slot on CNN.

      Can’t you get over the fact that these people signed a contract as a condition of their employment and then broke that contract by not adhering to it? It’s as simple as that, much as you’d like to revel in alternate interpretations.

    5. Josh Minkler’s US Attorney resume: The Senate confirmed Minkler to be United States Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana in October (2017). Since June 2015, he had served as interim U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. Prior to that position, Minkler served for 21 years as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Indiana.

      Hardly a Donald Trump appointee, GTS people. Grover how is the axe grinding business?

  1. There are some churches in the South that might be trying to justify slaves if you really wanted to grant complete religious freedom. Religious protections seem to have its limits when it affects the lives of people that come into contact with the church.

    1. Nice try …. people don’t get to choose their race / color of their skin. Gays have a choice … act … or don’t act ….

  2. Another notch in Archbishop Charles Thompson’s belt. He’s gotta be sitting in his rectory, smoking a cigar, gleaming with delight that he now has the US Federal Government and the Vatican both scrambling to take a stance on an issue his religion has been burying for 100s of years at the highest levels and still hasn’t addressed.

    While the Archbishop pads his personal resume and smiles in the mirror at himself with self aggrandizement, the Indy catholic community continues to crumble over the matter. Looks like Archbishop Thompson gets to now also bring all the religious freedom zealots into the mix too regardless of faith. He must be proud.

  3. As the Department of Justice stated, “The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right of religious institutions and people to decide what their beliefs are, to teach their faith, and to associate with others who share their faith.” Thank you.

  4. Over and above the religious question, these people (should have) read and signed a contract that specifically doesn’t allow it. If it is something that you are not able to comply with, there are many other places to apply/work that it is not a consideration. I have NO issues with same sex couples/marriages. That is not the issue…

    1. So what Grover is saying that signing a contractual obligation to an employer is only valid when it has no religious basis.

  5. It seems there should be some sort of disparate impact argument. I know the protected status of sexual preference as akin to race, sex, religion, national origin is not universally recognized. Still if the church is only enforcing its rules with respect to same sex marriage and not with respect to divorced heterosexuals or the use of birth control or having had a vasectomy there must be some sort of equality argument. Alternatively, what religion are you if you only enforce/practice certain clearly published and stated tenets of the faith and not others?

  6. The Rule of Law that governs the nation wins again. You see the US Constitution does not say that you have freedom of religion in am unlimited fashion. You have the right to exercise your right as does everyone else. The employee signed the Archdiocese contract that referenced Catholic beliefs. Since Congress made no law both parties have the right to exercise according to their beliefs. I believe the US Supreme court recently ruled that Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cake Shop did not have to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. Your rights end where mine begin.
    Most people have never read the US Constitution and there only understanding is what the media tells them, which is wrong 50% of the time, we just don’t know which 50%.

    1st Amendment: 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.

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