Archdiocese asks court to reject suit over teacher’s firing for same-sex marriage

Archdiocese of Indianapolis asks lawsuit by former Cathedral High School teacher be dismissed

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Archdiocese of Indianapolis said Wednesday it asked a Marion Superior Court to dismiss a lawsuit from a teacher fired by Cathedral High School for his same-sex marriage.

Joshua Payne-Elliott, terminated by the school in June, said in July that the archdiocese “illegally interfered with his contractual and employment relationship.” He had worked at Cathedral for 13 years.

Payne-Elliott says he was fired due to his same-sex marriage. He married Layton Payne-Elliott in 2017. Layton Payne-Elliott teaches at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. When the archdiocese requested his termination from Brebeuf, the school instead decided to split from the archdiocese.

In asking for the case to be dismissed, the archdiocese claimed that the teacher’s lawsuit is barred by the First Amendment because it is asks a secular court to interfere in the internal governance of the Catholic Church.

The archdiocese posted a statement on its website that said, in part, “When a teacher at Cathedral publicly entered a same-sex marriage in violation of his contract and of Catholic teaching, the Archdiocese spent almost two years in dialogue with Cathedral to discern the most appropriate pastoral response. The Archdiocese eventually informed Cathedral that if it wished to remain affiliated with the Catholic Church, it could not continue employing a teacher who lived in open violation of Catholic teaching. Desiring to remain a part of the Catholic Church, Cathedral ended its employment relationship with Mr. Payne-Elliott. Mr. Payne-Elliott then sued the Archdiocese, alleging that its rules for Catholic schools violate Indiana law.”

Jay Mercer, attorney for the archdiocese, said in the statement, “The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that churches have a constitutional right to determine rules for religious schools, and that religious schools have a constitutional right to hire leaders who support the schools’ religious mission. Families rely on the Archdiocese to uphold the fullness of Catholic social teaching throughout its schools, and the Constitution fully protects the Church’s efforts to do so.”

The statement also said, “’This case strikes at the heart of the First Amendment’s protections for separation of church and state,’” the Archdiocese’s motion says. “’The Indiana Supreme Court could not have been any clearer over a century ago: ‘‘No power save that of the church can rightfully declare who is a Catholic.’’”