Indiana Supreme Court rules in favor of archdiocese in firing gay teacher

Indianapolis and the Indiana State Capitol. (Image by David Mark from Pixabay)

The Indiana Supreme Court last week ruled in favor of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in its firing of a teacher because he was in a same-sex marriage.

The Indianapolis Star reported that the court supported the school’s decision to fire Joshua Payne-Elliott, saying it’s protected by the doctrine of church autonomy under the First Amendment.

“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,’” the opinion reads. “This principle, known as the church-autonomy doctrine … applies in this case and requires its dismissal under Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6).”

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 filed the lawsuit in 2019 that was originally dismissed by a county court. A state appellate court revived the case last year.

He said the archdiocese interfered with the employment contract he had with the school he worked at, Cathedral High School.

Payne-Elliot’s lawyer Kathleen DeLaney told the newspaper they were considering next steps.

“We lament this decision’s movement towards immunity from civil liability for religious institutions that discriminate against their employees,” DeLaney said. “The Court did, however, expressly allow Mr. Payne-Elliott to file a new complaint and start the case anew.”

The Catholic archdiocese pressured its schools to fire employees who violated its “morals clause,” which included those in same-sex marriages. The one school that didn’t, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, has since had to fight to keep its Catholic affiliation.