The Trump Administration’s U.S. Justice Department is supporting Catholic Church leaders in Indianapolis who are being sued over the firing of a teacher in a same-sex marriage.
The government filed a statement Friday in Marion County court stating that the First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion and gives faith-based schools the right to associate with some people and not others.
“If the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses stand for anything, it is that secular courts cannot entangle themselves in questions of religious law,” United States Attorney Josh Minkler said.
The lawsuit was filed by Joshua Payne-Elliott who says that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis illegally interfered in his contract with Cathedral High School where he had worked for 13 years.
In an interesting twist in this case Payne-Elliott’s spouse, Layton Payne-Elliott, teaches at the Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis. Brebeuf refused to fire Layton. The archdiocese said it no longer recognizes Brebeuf as a Catholic institution, a decision that has been suspended during the school’s appeal.
Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson has maintained that the church is not targeting anyone.
Rather, Thompson said, the archdiocese has a right to set whatever rules it wants for its schools and employees, like that they must live according to Catholic church doctrine. The archdiocese began requiring a morality clause in teacher, administrator and counselor contracts at some of its schools four years ago, and at all Catholic schools two years ago.
It was not clear how binding the DOJ’s statement is, or what impact it will have on Payne-Elliott’s lawsuit.