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Fired gay Hoosier teacher wins appeal to revive lawsuit

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A Indianapolis teacher who was fired from the parochial Cathedral High School had his lawsuit against the archdiocese revived by a state appeals court.

The Indianapolis Star reported that the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a Marion County Superior Court was wrong dismissing Joshua Payne-Elliott’s lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and reversed the decision, sending the case back to court.

Payne-Elliott was fired in 2019 when the archdiocese said all of its schools enforce a “morality clause,” which includes employees not being allowed in a same-sex marriage. He married his husband Layton Payne-Elliott, a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, in 2017, according to the Star.

Brebeuf refused to fire its teachers for being in a same-sex marriage and had to fight to remain a Catholic school. The archdiocese said the school was no longer recognized as a Catholic school in 2019. The school appealed to the Vatican in August, after Brebeuf athletes were barred from a local sports invitational with other Indianapolis-area Catholic high schools. The Vatican suspended the archdiocese’s decision to declare Brebeuf Jesuit Prepatory School no longer a Catholic institution in Sept. 2019.

Greg Nevins, Lambda Legal Senior Counsel and director of the Employment Fairness Project, said the archdiocese tried to claim First Amendment rights on the free expression of religion.

“The Archdiocese had sought to wield the First Amendment as some form of absolute immunity from any lawsuit challenging its actions,” Nevins said. “The Free Exercise Clause is not so broad. At a minimum, Payne-Elliott should be given the opportunity to present his case. His 13 years teaching at Cathedral High deserves no less, and we are grateful that the court agrees.”

According to the newspaper, the appellate court found that the trial court did have jurisdiction to hear the case and that it was too early in the process to dismiss the case on summary judgement. It also ruled that the court erred in dismissing the case with prejudice, which would have meant that the same claim could not be refiled in that court.

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