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IU law professor says teacher’s appeal in same-sex marriage case could be tough

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Joshua Payne-Elliott taught at Cathedral High School for 13 years. But he said that all changed when the Archdiocese of Indianapolis ordered him to be fired because he’s in a same-sex marriage.

His lawsuit against the was dismissed by a judge on Friday.

The church argued the First Amendment’s freedom of religion prohibits the courts from reviewing decisions by the archdiocese. The law firm representing the church called this an important step for parents who send their kids to Catholic schools.

“They want the schools to uphold Catholic teaching, and if the church isn’t allowed to employ teachers who are really, fully committed to their mission, then those parents, those parents that are sacrificing for their kids to attend Catholic schools. Then they can’t get a fully Catholic education,” said Luke Goodrich.

Now, Payne-Elliot has 30 days to appeal, but Steve Sanders, law professor at Indiana University’s Mauer School of Law, said the process could be complicated in this case.

“What’s mysterious and rather troubling to lawyers in this case is that the judge gave no explanation when he dismissed the lawsuit,” said Sanders.

He said appeals are normally made based on a judge’s explanation. Sanders said it can be assumed the judge simply agreed with the arguments made.

In this situation, Sanders said the church claims it’s immune from the law. He said while the legal system often provides deference for the church, it certainly can’t always apply.

“For example, if a church decides it’s not going to pay its electric bill, it couldn’t claim that it was immune from a lawsuit to pay the electric bill. So in this case, the church made very far-reaching arguments, essentially saying that it was not accountable under the law in any circumstances,” said Sanders.

It’s not clear if Payne-Elliott and his lawyer plan to appeal. News 8 reached out to his lawyer for comment and on Sunday had not heard back.