The Trump administration this week filed a 35-page amicus brief defending the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis in a lawsuit against Joshua Payne-Elliott, who was fired in 2019 for being gay and being in a same-sex marriage.
In June 2019, we reported that Indianapolis’ Cathedral High School fired Payne-Elliott (who was not identified until he filed suit the following month) in order to protect its Catholic identity just days after the Indianapolis Archdiocese cut ties with another school, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, which refused to fire a gay teacher.
The school wrote about its decision in an open letter from Cathedral’s board Chairman Matt Cohoat and President Rob Bridges, which read, in part: “It is Archbishop Thompson’s responsibility to oversee faith and morals as related to Catholic identity within the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Archbishop Thompson made it clear that Cathedral’s continued employment of a teacher in a public, same-sex marriage would result in our forfeiting our Catholic identity due to our employment of an individual living in contradiction to Catholic teaching on marriage. If this were to happen, Cathedral would lose the ability to celebrate the Sacraments as we have in the past 100 years with our students and community. Additionally, we would lose the privilege of reserving the Blessed Sacrament in our chapel’s tabernacle, we could no longer refer to Cathedral as a Catholic school, our diocesan priests would no longer be permitted to serve on our Board of Directors, and we would lose our affiliation with The Brothers of Holy Cross. Furthermore, Cathedral would lose its 501(c)(3) status thus rendering Cathedral unable to operate as a nonprofit school.”
Said the Department of Justice, in its brief in support of the Archdiocese: “[The] Constitution bars the government from interfering with the autonomy of religious organizations.”
NBC News reports: “Part of the DOJ’s argument relies on the ‘ministerial exception,’ a constitutional protection for religious institutions to prevent government interference in the hiring and firing of ‘ministerial’ employees. What constitutes a ‘ministerial’ employee, however, is a point of contention. The government’s brief argues that Payne-Elliott, a world language and social studies teacher at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, fits into this category, stating that he has ‘the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith’ and continuing to employ him would ‘interfere with the Archdiocese’s public expression of Church doctrine regarding marriage.’ The DOJ made a similar argument last year via a ‘statement of interest‘ in the case.”