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Judge dismisses lawsuit filed by teacher fired for being in same-sex marriage

Courts adjust during the pandemic.
Posted at 8:01 PM, May 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-07 20:01:03-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former teacher at Cathedral High School who was fired because he was in a same-sex marriage.

The judge dismissed the lawsuit filed by Joshua Payne-Elliott saying the court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter and fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

In December 2020, the Indiana Supreme Court denied the Archdiocese of Indianapolis' request to dismiss the lawsuit and appointed a special judge.

Payne-Elliott began working at Cathedral High School as a world language and social studies teacher in August 2006. He was fired in June 2019 "at the direction of the Archdiocese," according to a lawsuit.

Three days after Payne-Elliott accepted and signed a new teaching contract, he was told the school was expecting a letter from the Archdiocese stating Cathedral needed to "adopt and enforce morals clause language used in teacher contracts" in order to be recognized as a catholic school and keep it's tax-exempt status, according to the lawsuit.

His spouse is a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School.

On June 20, Brebeuf Jesuit said it was declining the Archdiocese's directive to fire his spouse, a "highly capable and qualified teacher," because he was in a "civilly-recognized same-sex marriage."

The next day, the Archbishop issued a decree and said Brebeuf Jesuit can't use the Catholic name and would no longer be recognized as a Catholic institution.

And two days later, Payne-Elliott was fired by Cathedral.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a law firm based in Washington, D.C., called the judge's move "an important ruling in favor of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis." Attorneys from the firm represented the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in the case.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis released the following statement about the judge's decision.

Catholic schools exist to uphold the dignity of all persons, including those who experience same-sex attraction, and to teach the Catholic faith to the next generation. To accomplish this religious mission, Catholic schools ask their educators to uphold the Catholic faith by word and deed. If a school’s educators oppose core aspects of the Catholic faith, it undermines the school’s ability to accomplish its mission. Because of that, the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that religious schools have a constitutional right to hire leaders who support the schools’ religious mission. Today’s ruling protects this basic right. If the First Amendment means anything, it means the government can’t punish the Catholic Church for asking Catholic educators to support Catholic teaching.

WRTV reached out to an attorney for Payne-Elliott Friday evening for a statement on the judge's decision and is awaiting a response.