The Slatest

Trump Administration Backs Catholic High School in Firing of Gay Teacher

An exterior view of the U.S. Department of Justice headquarters, July 25, 2017 in Washington, D.C.
An exterior view of the U.S. Department of Justice headquarters, July 25, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Justice Department filed a “statement of interest” supporting the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in its decision to fire a school teacher because he was married to someone of the same sex. Joshua Payne-Elliott has filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis because it ordered Cathedral High School to fire him.

The Department of Justice says that the archdiocese was well within its First Amendment rights to order a teacher be fired for being gay. “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,” Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, said in a statement. “The First Amendment rightly protects the free exercise of religion.” U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler also said that “if the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses stand for anything, it is that secular courts cannot entangle themselves in questions of religious law.”

Payne-Elliott had worked at Cathedral High School fo 13 years. The school renewed his annual teaching contract in May, but a little over a month later he was fired. The school’s president reportedly told Payne-Elliott that the archdiocese ordered to fire him because he was married to another man. “The Archdiocese told Cathedral that the school’s continued employment of a teacher in a public, same-sex marriage in contradiction to Catholic teachings on marriage would result in Cathedral’s forfeiture of its Catholic identity. After much deliberation, the school terminated the teacher,” notes the Department of Justice statement.

Payne-Elliott’s lawyer, Kathleen DeLaney, said it was “highly unusual” for the Justice Department to get involved in what was essentially a local employment issue. “What I take away from this is that the Trump administration is politicizing a legal dispute about an Indiana business tort.” DeLaney said. Vanita Gupta, the former head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, wrote on Twitter that the move by the Justice Department shows how the Trump administration is “once again using religion as a shield against core anti-discrimination principles that protect LGBTQ people.”