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Archdiocese responds to same-sex teacher lawsuit

Former Cathedral High School teacher filed suit
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Posted at 4:56 PM, Aug 21, 2019

INDIANAPOLIS—Another chapter in the legal battle over same-sex marriage between a former Cathedral High School teacher and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

In July, Joshua Payne-Elliott sued the archdiocese after he was fired from his Cathedral teaching job because of his marriage to another man.

Wednesday, the archdiocese fired back, asking Marion County Superior Court to dismiss the suit, saying it asks a secular court to interfere in the internal governance of the Catholic Church. A press release issued by the archdiocese says teachers at Cathedral sign a contract agreeing to be witnesses of Catholic principles in word and deed.

According to a statement from the archdiocese, "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."

But Payne-Elliott's attorney contends the archdiocese "illegally interfered with his contractual and employment relationship with Cathedral High School, causing Cathedral to terminate him on June 23, 2019. For 13-years, Mr. Payne-Elliott was a cherished educator of countless students at Cathedral High School. Cathedral renewed his annual teaching contract on May 21, 2019, but on June 23, 2019, Cathedral's president told Mr. Payne-Elliott that the archdiocese had directed Cathedral to terminate him, and Cathedral was following that directive."

Jay Mercer, the attorney for the archdiocese, says the U.S. 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."

"This case strikes at the heart of the First Amendment's protections for separation of church and state," the archdiocese said in its court filing.

A ruling on the lawsuit could come later this year.