The U.S. Department of Justice issued a statement of interest Friday in support of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis over a decision that led to the firing of a Catholic teacher in a same-sex marriage, according to a report.
The Justice Department's statement says the First Amendment gives the diocese the right to apply Catholic doctrine in employment decisions, The Indianapolis Star reported.
“The United States has no reason on this record to doubt that Plaintiff was an excellent teacher,” the Justice Department’s statement says, adding the government can “cast no judgment on whether the Archdiocese’s decision is right and proper as a matter of Catholic doctrine or religious faith.”
Joshua Payne-Elliott is suing the archdiocese for wrongful termination, alleging they illegally interfered in his employment contract at Cathedral High School, which is part of the archdiocese.
Payne-Elliott worked as a social studies teacher at the school from 2006 until last June. The school had offered to renew his contract but then said they were letting him go at the direction of the archdiocese.
Payne-Elliott’s husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, works at another school that was temporarily kicked out of the archdiocese for refusing to fire him. The Vatican this week interceded to temporarily halt the school’s removal, pending an appeal.
Payne-Elliott’s lawyer, Kathleen DeLaney, says the issued is about an employment dispute, not religious liberty.
"Josh Payne-Elliot was employed by Cathedral High School," she said, according to The Star. "Cathedral High School fired my client because the archdiocese told them to and threatened to take various actions against Cathedral if they refused to fire my client."
"That is textbook intentional interference in an employment relationship," she added. "He was not employed by the archdiocese but the archdiocese had him fired."
Payne-Elliott said he hoped the case would "put a stop to the targeting of LGBTQ employees and their families."
The school said it sees its teachers as "ministers" who are required to uphold Catholic teachings, which prohibit same-sex marriage.
Two guidance counselors were also fired from another high school in the archdiocese this year for being in sex-sex marriages. One of the counselors has filed a lawsuit and the other is expected to soon.
The archdiocese began requiring Catholic high school teachers to sign a morality clause, but Payne-Elliott says he never did.
The Justice Department's statement of interest has no official bearing on the case, The Star reported.