Indiana Court Tosses Out Lawsuit Against Indianapolis Archdiocese

The lawsuit against the archdiocese was filed by a former teacher at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis.

Cathedral High School terminated Joshua Payne-Elliott’s contract in June 2019. After reaching a settlement with the school, he filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese in August 2019.
Cathedral High School terminated Joshua Payne-Elliott’s contract in June 2019. After reaching a settlement with the school, he filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese in August 2019. (photo: Courtesy of Becket)

An Indiana court on Friday dismissed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, filed by a former Catholic school teacher fired for contracting a same-sex civil marriage.  

Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which represents the archdiocese, said that the dismissal of the lawsuit was a “major victory” for religious liberty.

“If the First Amendment means anything, it means the government can’t punish the Catholic Church for asking Catholic educators to support Catholic teaching,” he said.

The lawsuit against the archdiocese was filed by Joshua Payne-Elliott, a former teacher at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. In 2017, Payne-Elliott entered a same-sex civil marriage with another Catholic school teacher in the archdiocese, Layton Payne-Elliott.

According to Becket, the archdiocese for two years considered what action to take, before instructing both Cathedral and Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, where Layton Payne-Elliott taught, that their employment could not continue. The civil marriage had violated Church teaching, the archdiocese said.  

Brebeuf refused the archbishop’s request, and the archdiocese in response revoked the school’s “Catholic” status. Cathedral High School, however, terminated Joshua Payne-Elliott’s contract in June 2019. After reaching a settlement with the school, he filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese in August 2019.

The archdiocese has the right to uphold Church teaching in its standards for employee conduct, Goodrich said on Friday.

“Every Catholic school teacher in the Archdiocese signs an agreement to uphold the Church’s teachings in word and deed. The teacher here was dismissed after he entered a same-sex union in knowing violation of this agreement and of millennia of Catholic teaching,” Goodrich said on Twitter.

Becket said that it invoked three legal protections on behalf of the archdiocese in the case: “Church Autonomy, which protects internal religious governance,” “Expressive Association, which protects the ability to form groups to express a message,” and “The Ministerial Exception, which protects the freedom to choose religious leaders.”

Goodrich said, “It is important that courts consistently uphold the right of religious groups to operate by their religious principles. Choosing who teaches in a religious school is a religious decision. Today’s order ensures that those decisions will be made by churches, not governments.” 


Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Indiana Supreme Court ruled  Friday, May 7. It was a trial court, the Marion Superior Court.

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