May 20, 2021

Former Cathedral High School Teacher Appeals Dismissed Lawsuit Against Indianapolis Archdiocese

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A teacher who sued the Archdiocese of Indianapolis after he was fired from a Catholic high school because of his same-sex marriage is appealing the dismissal of the case.

Joshua Payne-Elliott accuses the Archdiocese of forcing Cathedral High School to terminate him in 2019 after 13 years of teaching foreign language and social studies because of his gay marriage. The Catholic Church does not support gay marriage.

Earlier this month a special judge with the Marion County Superior Court dismissed the case without explanation. Thursday Payne-Elliott filed the appeal with the Indiana Court of Appeals. His attorney says constitutional and civil rights issues have not been adequately addressed in the case.

“The order of dismissal offers no reason, no rationale, and no basis for the decision,” attorney Kathleen DeLaney said in a statement. “We have no way to know how the judge got to the decision. The lack of an explanation is unusual, particularly because both the Indiana Supreme Court and the prior Special Judge had already considered and rejected the Archdiocese’s First Amendment arguments.”

Payne-Elliott chartatized the appeal as a way to stand up to bullies.

“The loving values of this community stand boldly above the divisive actions taken by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and we look forward to a proper review of this case,” he said in a statement.

Payne-Elliott filed the initial lawsuit against the Archdiocese in 2019.

Last year, a trial court judge allowed the lawsuit to proceed. After that, the judge recused himself, and Judge Lance D. Hamner was assigned. Then in December, the Indiana Supreme Court allowed the Marion County Superior Court to reconsider the case,

Hamner’s one-page order to dismiss the lawsuit on May 7 only cited a lack of jurisdiction for the claims as reason to dismiss.

The Archdiocese and its attorneys maintain that the First Amendment allows religious schools to choose teachers who support their religious faith.

“If the First Amendment means anything, it means the government can’t punish the Catholic Church for asking Catholic educators to support Catholic teaching,” Luke Goodrich, an Archdiocese attorney and vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement earlier this month.

A hearing date for the appeal has not been set.

Contact WFYI education editor Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.

 

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