This past June, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis opened a huge can of wormswhen it asked two Catholic schools within the diocese—Cathedral High School and Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School—not to renew the contracts of two male teachers who had, in flagrant violation of the Church’s teachings, been married in 2017.
This should have been a simple matter. In the United States, an organization may legitimately expect employees to uphold its mission and guiding principles. Extensive precedent interprets the First Amendment guarantee of the right to free association to include the right for religious organizations to restrict employment to individuals who will respect the organization’s beliefs. In fact, the Indiana Supreme Court addressed this issue specifically in regard to the Catholic Church when it said, “No power save that of the church can rightfully declare who is a Catholic.” In the case of a Catholic school, those guiding principles are nothing less than the teachings of the Catholic Church—including the teachings on marriage and sexuality.
But it wasn’t that simple. The situation exploded. When the archdiocese instructed Cathedral and Brebeuf not to renew the contracts of the two teachers, Cathedral acquiesced; Brebuef refused. As a result, the archdiocese has cut ties with the Jesuit institution. Earlier this month, Archbishop Thompson refused to let the school celebrate its traditional Holy Spirit Mass because it has been stripped (or, rather, stripped itself) of its Catholic identity.
And it didn’t stop there. In July, Payne-Elliot filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese, claiming that it had violated his rights as an employee by asking the school not to renew his contract.
The coverage of this story is about what you would expect. Take this subheadline from the Huffington Post: “Joshua Payne-Elliott, a social studies teacher, worked at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis for 13 years. He was fired for getting married.” It’s the usual narrative: repressive Catholic organization discriminates against upstanding gay man.
That narrative misses the point. The reality is that organizations like Catholic schools must be allowed to make hiring decisions based on a moral code, even if that moral code is currently unpopular. And what is less popular today than the social teachings of the Catholic Church about sexuality and marriage?
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