The Trump administration has thrown its support behind the Archdiocese of Indianapolis after it demanded a gay teacher be fired because of his same-sex marriage.
Joshua Payne-Elliott sued after he was terminated from Cathedral High School this year, alleging that the archdiocese illegally intervened to have him fired and threatened consequences if the school didn’t comply.
In a “Statement of Interest” filed Friday, Sept. 27, the Justice Department argued that the archdiocese was within its rights under the First Amendment to have Payne-Elliott fired, the Indianapolis Star reports.
“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 DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said. “The First Amendment rightly protects the free exercise of religion.”
U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler added: “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 sued the archiocese in July after Cathedral High School was forced to fire him — a decision that was made when Archbishop Charles Thompson ordered Cathedral to do so or risk forfeiting its “Catholic identity.”
According to the school’s board of directors, “Archbishop Thompson made it clear that Cathedrals continued employment of a teacher in a public, same-sex marriage would result in our forfeiting our Catholic identity due to our employment of an individual living in contradiction to Catholic teaching on marriage. If this were to happen, Cathedral would lose the ability to celebrate the Sacraments as we have in the past 100 years with our students and community.”
The school would also have lost a number of other privileges, including referring to Cathedral as a Catholic School, their affiliation with The Brothers of Holy Cross, and their nonprofit status.
Payne-Elliott’s attorney, Kathleen DeLaney, told the Star that it was “highly unusual” for the DOJ to file a statement on a local issue, saying she believed that “the Trump administration is politicizing a legal dispute about an Indiana business tort.”
She added that Payne-Elliott’s case was not about First Amendment protections or religious liberty, but rather about an employment dispute.
“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,” she said. “That is textbook intentional interference in an employment relationship. He was not employed by the archdiocese but the archdiocese had him fired.”
Payne-Elliott’s husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, was at the center of a similar dispute between the archdiocese and Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, where Layton is a teacher.
The archdiocese threatened to strip Brebeuf of its Catholic identity unless it fired Layton Payne-Elliott, but the school refused to comply with the demands.
That resulted in the Archdiocese dropping Brebeuf from its list of schools and telling the school that it could no longer promote itself as being affiliated with the Catholic Church.
The school is instead referring to itself as an “independent Catholic” institution.
However, the Star reports that the archdiocese’s decision is on hold, after an appeal to the Vatican by Brebeuf.
The Payne-Elliott case isn’t the first time the Trump administration has supported firing gay people.
Last month, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to make it legal to fire people for being gay or transgender.
In two separate briefs, the DOJ argued that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act doesn’t protect employees from being discriminated against or fired based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Trump’s Labor Department also supports allowing federal contractors to discriminate against LGBTQ people based on the employer’s religious objections.
In a proposed new rule, contractors could discriminate against LGBTQ employees, as well as other workers based on race, ethnicity, national origin, and sex.