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Justice Department sides with archdiocese in same-sex marriage teacher lawsuit

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Posted at 3:25 PM, Sep 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-27 15:26:41-04

INDIANAPOLIS — The U.S. Justice Department on Friday sided with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in a civil lawsuit brought by a former teacher who said he was wrongfully terminated by the archdiocese because he was in a same-sex marriage.

In a statement of interest filed Friday in Marion Superior Court, the Justice Department said the court must dismiss the lawsuit brought by Joshua Payne-Elliott because the First Amendment protects the right of the Archdiocese to freely exercise their faith.

"The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right of religious institutions and people to decide what their beliefs are, to teach their faith, and to associate with others who share their faith," Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. "The First Amendment rightly protects the free exercise of religion."

In July, Payne-Elliott filed the lawsuit alleging the archdiocese "illegally interfered with his contractual and employment relationship with Cathedral High School." Payne-Elliott was fired in June, even after his teaching contract was renewed in May, because the archdiocese issued a directive to the school ordering the school to terminate the contract.

"The Archdiocese determined that, consistent with its interpretation of Church teachings, a school within its diocesan boundaries cannot identify as Catholic and simultaneously employ a teacher in a public, same-sex marriage," the Justice Department filing read. "Many may lament the Archdiocese's determination. But the First Amendment forbids this Court from interfering with the Archdiocese's right to expressive association, and from second-guessing the Archdiocese's interpretation and application of Catholic law. For these reasons, this action must be dismissed."

The Archdiocese in August filed a motion seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed.