The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ right to fire a Catholic high school teacher because of his same-gender marriage.
In 2019, the archdiocese ordered all Catholic high schools under its purview to enforce a “morality clause,” which would restrict employees from entering same-gender unions. Joshua Payne-Elliott, a teacher at Cathedral High School, was fired after the instruction. He reached a settlement with the school, but went on to sue the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for discrimination. The Star Observer reported:
“Payne-Elliot had argued that the Catholic high school had renewed his annual contract three times whilst aware of his relationship until the archdiocese became aware and forced his dismissal.”
Despite Payne-Elliott’s claim that the archdiocese had unjustly breached and interfered with his contract at Cathedral, the court ruled in the archdiocese’s favor, saying that religiously-affiliated schools are protected under the doctrine of church autonomy, which is under the First Amendment. MetroWeekly recounted Indiana Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Slaughter’s final remarks:
“‘Religious freedom protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution encompasses the right of religious institutions “to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.”‘”
Payne-Elliott taught world language and social studies at Cathedral for thirteen years. His partner, Layton Payne-Elliott, is also a teacher at a Catholic High School, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School of Indianapolis. America reported:
“The archdiocese directed the schools to fire both men. Brebeuf did not comply with the directive, after which Archbishop Charles Thompson responded by attempting to strip Brebeuf of its status as a Catholic school. That action was suspended by Vatican officials after Brebeuf appealed.”
Following the court’s decision, Payne-Elliott reflected on his concerns regarding the safety of LGBTQ+ students and educators in Catholic Schools across Indiana. He also critiqued the interference of financial support received by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis through the state’s private school voucher program.
“We would also like the citizens of Indiana to know that millions of taxpayer dollars are being redirected each year from public schools (where teachers have enforceable contract rights and rights to be free from discrimination) to private schools which target LGBTQ employees. We fear for the well-being of LGBTQ students and faculty in Catholic schools,” Payne-Elliott said, according to MetroWeekly.
Payne-Elliott’s attorney, Kathleen Delany, has stated that they are open to evaluating new routes of action, such as potentially filing a new lawsuit, to ensure justice is met for Payne-Elliott.
—Anushah Sajwani, September 20, 2022