Make your home page

Indiana Supreme Court upholds firing of Cathedral HS teacher in same-sex marriage

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Indiana Supreme Court will not reinstate the lawsuit of a former Cathedral High School teacher fired because he was in a same-sex marriage.

The court handed down its decision Wednesday in the case of Joshua Payne-Elliott.

In a 4-0 decision, the court ruled the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis has church autonomy protection under the First Amendment, allowing churches to decide matters of faith and doctrine without government interference. Chief Justice Loretta Rush did not participate in the case. 

Payne-Elliott worked as a foreign language and social studies teacher at Cathedral for 13 years before he was terminated in June 2019. He says the Archdiocese of Indianapolis ordered him to be fired because he’s in a same-sex marriage.

Payne-Elliott married Layton Payne-Elliott, a math teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, in 2017.

When the archdiocese requested Layton Payne-Elliott be terminated from his role at Brebeuf, the school declined to fire him.  In June 2019, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson dropped the school from the archdiocese. The Vatican suspended that decision in September 2019 and returned Brebeuf to its status as a Catholic Jesuit school.

In Tuesday’s ruling, Justice Geoffrey Slaughter wrote both schools faced the same choice, “either retain its recognition as a Catholic school by following the archdiocese’s instruction on what was required to be recognized as a Catholic school or forfeit continued recognition. This choice reflects the archdiocese’s authority to declare which schools are Catholic.”

The ruling does provide Payne-Elliott with 10 days to amend his case before a Marion County judge. 

Luke Goodrich, the attorney for the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, tweeted after the court’s decision: “Today’s decision is a powerful dose of common sense. It is also a powerful application of the principle of “separation of church and state,” rightly understood: The state can’t insert itself into the internal governance of the church. Catholic schools exist to teach the faith to the next generation–and they can’t carry out that mission if the law forces them to employ teachers who reject core aspects of the Catholic faith.”

Previous coverage:


“While we are disappointed by today’s decision, we would like to make clear that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis ordered the school to breach my valid, legal employment contract – a contract that the school had renewed three times after the school was aware of the relationship. We would also like the citizens of Indiana to know that millions of taxpayer dollars are being redirected each year from public schools (where teachers have enforceable contract rights and rights to be free from discrimination) to private schools which target LGBTQ employees. We fear for the well-being of LGBTQ students and faculty in Catholic schools.”

Joshua Payne-Elliott

“We lament this decision’s movement towards immunity from civil liability for religious institutions that discriminate against their employees. The Court did, however, expressly allow Mr. Payne-Elliott to file a new complaint and start the case anew. We are evaluating all options and will come to a thoughtful, wellresearched decision in consultation with our client about next steps.”

Kathleen A. DeLaney, one of Payne-Elliott’s attorneys