Ex-Roncalli counselor appeals ruling in favor of Indianapolis Archdiocese

Michelle “Shelly” Fitzgerald, the former guidance counselor at Roncalli High School who was fired for being in a same-sex marriage, is turning to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and fighting the dismissal of her lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which is representing Fitzgerald, announced the decision to appeal Monday. The organization said the appeal is seeking to counter the expansion of the ministerial exception doctrine, which is seen as circumventing civil rights laws.

“Religious extremists are waging a crusade to expand a commonsense rule that allows houses of worship to select their own clergy according to their own faith, into a means to avoid liability for bigotry and discrimination,” Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United, said in a statement. “If allowed to continue, the expanded doctrine will allow any nominally religious organization to hire and fire any employee for any reason or none, so long as the organization can include a religious duty in a contract.”

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana dismissed Fitzgerald’s lawsuit on Sept. 30. The court found the Catholic Church is protected by the ministerial exception doctrine from state interference in its internal decisions.

That ruling mirrored decisions in other cases brought against the Indianapolis Archdiocese by educators who were fired because they were married to same-sex spouses.

The Indiana Supreme Court found the church-autonomy doctrine prevented it from ruling in the lawsuit filed by former Cathedral High School teacher Joshua Payne-Elliott, and the 7th Circuit cited the ministerial exception in affirming the dismissal of a complaint brought by Fitzgerald’s Roncalli colleague, Lynn Starkey.

Pointing to the appellate court’s ruling in Starkey v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, et al., 21-2524, the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty expressed confidence that the Fitzgerald decision would also be affirmed.

“The Seventh Circuit just decided an identical appeal just three months ago and unanimously upheld the Archdiocese’s freedom to choose leaders who are fully committed to their religious mission,” Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Beckett, said in a statement. “We anticipate another ruling affirming this core constitutional right and ensuring that the Archdiocese can continue providing an authentic Catholic education rooted in the dignity of every human person.”

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16 thoughts on “Ex-Roncalli counselor appeals ruling in favor of Indianapolis Archdiocese

  1. Wait a minute. A group that advocates the separation of Church and Government wants the Government to decide who the Church can hire? That ladies and gentlemen can only be a real thing in America 2022. (No offense if you identify as a furry or widget. It’s just a phrase.)

    1. Should a church be able to decide that every single employee, down to the janitor, is a minister and should be held accountable to morals clauses as part of their employment?

      If so, should they also be able to accept taxpayer dollars via vouchers for schools they run?

      Seems to me that answered yes to both questions is rather tricky… especially when the only part of that morals clause enforced is around same sex relationships and not other parts of Catholic doctrine. I mean, should they be able to make mandatory that they take monthly blood work from female employees … and fire any who are taking birth control? Should any male teacher who has had a vasectomy also be fired?

  2. Well isn’t that ironic… claiming they want to provide “…education rooted in the dignity of every human person” while in the middle of a lawsuit where they’re being accused of discrimination…

  3. If you don’t agree with the church’s teachings, why would you want to work there unless your true intent was to subvert the church? Vegans don’t go to work at butcher shops. Environmentalists don’t go to work for oil drillers.

    1. “… subverting the church”? What an odd perspective. Do you really think this counselor was indoctrinating the students into a same sex lifestyle? You are paranoid. Just perhaps she loves doing this kind of work and this place was hiring and she didn’t think her personal life should be the object of the administration’s judgement since she’s not teaching religion.

    2. Randy S.: If she loves this kind of work there are many other schools she could be doing the work at. No, this is “you march to my drummer Mr Employer, no matter how in conflict it is with your beliefs.”

    3. Dominick – try substituting “Black” for gay in your theory and see how stupid it sounds. If that is hard for you to grasp, let’s say “Sorry, we don’t like Black people so we don’t hire them. If you don’t like that, then go work someplace where they do like your kind.” See?

    1. Illegal contracts are unenforceable. This litigation is attempting to get to the issue of whether calling every warm body walking through the doors is a “minister”. That’s BS.

  4. Here we go again. Geeze, will these people ever give it up and just PAY ATTENTION to what they are signing?

    The answer is “NO” because they want to force Secular-Humanism down the throat of every person living in The United States of America, making it the default religion where each person is their own god and answers to no one.

    Would they sign a contract for less money than they think they are worth and then turn around and sue the employer for not paying them enough?

    1. Bob, the only people trying to force their thinking down the throat of others is the CC. Also, see my post above about contracts that contain an illegal provision being unenforceable.

    2. Hey Bob, the secular humanism ship sailed during the pandemic and a lot of conservative Christians helped it happen. I don’t recall many religious folks standing up to state that hey, a bunch of vaccine deniers didn’t have “sincere religious beliefs”, they’d just read some stuff on Facebook.

      Heck, folks like Micah Beckwith helped enable their nonsense and wrote letters about how these folks who wouldn’t know a chapter from a verse actually had beliefs based on religion, thereby cheapening those with actual beliefs in the process.

      But please, go on about how the gays and the Democrats are the problem instead of church “leadership” less interested in saving souls for eternity and more interested in political power during their comparatively brief time on earth.

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