A former teacher at an Indiana Catholic school sued the state’s archdiocese after he was fired from the school for being in a same-sex marriage.
Joshua Payne-Elliott’s attorney said in a press release obtained by a local news station that Payne-Elliott alleges in the suit that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis “illegally interfered with his contractual and employment relationship with Cathedral High School, causing Cathedral to terminate him on June 23, 2019.”
“For thirteen years, Mr. Payne-Elliott was a cherished educator of countless students at Cathedral High School. Cathedral renewed his annual teaching contract on May 21, 2019. But on June 23, 2019, Cathedral’s President told Mr. Payne-Elliott that the Archdiocese had ‘directed’ Cathedral to terminate him, and that Cathedral was following that directive,” the court filing reportedly continues.
In addition to his filing in Indiana court, Payne-Elliott reportedly filed a concurrent petition with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, arguing that the Catholic archdiocese of Indiana “discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and retaliated against him for opposing sexual orientation discrimination.”
Cathedral High School, his former employer, said in a letter to parents and students upon his firing that the choice was an “agonizing” one for school officials.
Archbishop Charles Thompson made clear that “continued employment of a teacher in a public, same-sex marriage would result in our forfeiting our Catholic identity,” the letter read.
“If this were to happen, Cathedral would lose the ability to celebrate the Sacraments as we have in the past 100 years with our students and community,” the letter, signed by Cathedral’s board Chairman Matt Cohoat and President Rob Bridges, reads. “Cathedral must follow the direct guidance given to us by Archbishop Thompson and separate from the teacher.”
The state archdiocese commented on the lawsuit Wednesday, telling RTV6 that it was protected under federal law allowing religious organizations to define appropriate behavior for their employees under their religious beliefs.
“In the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ Catholic schools, all teachers, school leaders and guidance counselors are ministers and witnesses of the faith, who are expected to uphold the teachings of the Church in their daily lives, both in and out of school,” the archdiocese said.
“Religious liberty, which is a hallmark of the U.S. Constitution and has been tested in the U.S. Supreme Court, acknowledges that religious organizations may define what conduct is not acceptable and contrary to the teachings of its religion, for its school leaders, guidance counselors, teachers and other ministers of the faith,” it continued.