Last updated on May 9th, 2021 at 08:45 pm
In the case of Kompier v. Thegza of March 1, 1938, the Indiana Supreme Court stated, “No power save that of the church can rightfully declare who is a Catholic.” That notion was upheld Friday, as the Marion Superior Court of Indiana dismissed the case of a Catholic teacher who was suing the Archdiocese for wrongful dismissal after it was revealed he had been in a same-sex civil union.
This signals not only a victory for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, but a rather large win for religious freedom in America.
Joshua Payne-Elliott, a teacher at Cathedral Catholic High School, entered into a same-sex civil union in 2017. In doing so, he violated not just his employment agreement with the Archdiocese but went against 2,000 years of Catholic teaching and tradition. The Archdiocese asks all new hires to sign an agreement to uphold Church teaching in both professional and private lives. When it became known that Payne-Elliott was in a “civil union” with another man, the Church began the process of trying to reconcile the best road forward with both the teacher and the school. The high school was confronted with the decision that if it wanted to remain Catholic, it could not continue employing teachers openly opposing Church teaching.
The process of trying to find a solution lasted almost two years. When Cathedral Catholic notified Payne-Elliott that they would continue to be affiliated with the Catholic Church and abide by the Archdiocese’s mandate, the teacher sued in state court alleging that the Church’s policy of requiring its Catholic schools to uphold Catholic teaching was illegal.
Serving as counsel for the Archdiocese was The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty; a non-profit, public-interest legal and educational institute with a mission to protect the free expression of all faiths.
Becket and the United States Department of Justice argued that “the First Amendment bars civil courts from punishing the Catholic Church for establishing rules for Catholic schools. After an initial ruling that the lawsuit could proceed, the case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Indiana, which sent it back to the lower court to consider Becket’s arguments. On May 7, 2021, the Marion Superior Court of Indiana dismissed the case, ruling in favor of the Archdiocese.”
For over 175 years, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has been committed to teaching the Catholic faith. It provides tens of millions of dollars in vital social services to people in central and southern Indiana, operating a number of schools that provide safe, high-quality education to thousands of low-income students. But it’s not the first time the Archdiocese has had to grapple with the issue of Catholic teachers defying Catholic teaching. In July 2019, the Archdiocese settled out of court with a teacher who was involved in a same-sex “marriage”. The previous year, a gay guidance counselor at Roncalli High School was placed on administrative leave because of her marriage to another woman. Shelly Fitzgerald and another gay guidance counselor, Lynn Starkey, were eventually let go from Roncalli. Starkey is also in a same-sex marriage.