Over the years, opponents of equal civil rights for LGBTQ citizens manufactured all manner of secular justifications for their bigotry. They claimed that homosexuality was a mental disorder, that gay men were all promiscuous, that children require a “traditional” marriage between a male and female in order to thrive, and more.
There was no credible evidence for any of these assertions, and as a result, gay folks won important legal victories, including the right to legal recognition of same-sex marriage. Opponents of that progress are left with what has always been the actual justification for their animus: religious doctrine.
Thanks to the First Amendment’s religion clauses, doctrinal homophobia is a protected belief. Pastors can inveigh against homosexuality from the pulpit without fear of official sanction, and people who accept those beliefs are free to avoid socializing with gay folks.
What religious beliefs cannot be used to justify, however, is legal discrimination. When the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, some “Christians” opposed it because they claimed their religion required separation of the races and submission of women. The First Amendment doesn’t include a right to make those beliefs the law of the land.
The First Amendment protects religious belief. Civil rights laws protect members of marginalized groups from discrimination. What happens when those two rights collide?
In Indianapolis, we’ve seen recent examples of that collision. Two Catholic high schools have fired employees–guidance counselors and teachers of secular subjects–for the sin of same-sex marriage.
Joshua Payne-Elliott, the teacher fired from Cathedral High School because of his same-sex marriage, is suing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
Until now, Payne-Elliott had not been identified publicly. His husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, is a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. They married in 2017. The couple have been at the center of a fight between their schools and the Catholic Church, which directed the schools to fire both men.
Brebeuf refused to fire Layton Payne-Elliott, so the archdiocese stripped the school of its Catholic status. Cathedral fired Joshua Payne-Elliott to avoid the same fate.
A lawsuit filed Wednesday in Marion County alleges that the archdiocese illegally interfered with Joshua Payne-Elliott’s contractual and employment relationship with Cathedral High School, causing Cathedral to terminate him.
“We hope that this case will put a stop to the targeting of LGBTQ employees and their families,” Payne-Elliott said in a news release
The Archdiocese is arguing that they are within their rights under the current jurisprudence of religious liberty, and that “religious organizations may define what conduct is not acceptable and contrary to the teachings of its religion, for its school leaders, guidance counselors, teachers and other ministers of the faith.”
Payne-Elliott taught world languages and social studies, and Cathedral confirmed that his termination had nothing to do with his performance. The principal acknowledged that he was a very good teacher. Evidently, Cathedral would have preferred not to fire him, but gave in to the demands of the Archdiocese.
Brebeuf, the Jesuit school that employs Payne-Elliott’s spouse, did not, and it deserves credit for its refusal to terminate him.
Given the current makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, it is likely that the law will continue to favor assertions of religious doctrine over the civil and contractual rights of gays and lesbians. But the court of public opinion is a different matter. After all, Catholic dogma isn’t confined to disapproval of same-sex marriage. Church doctrine opposes divorce, sex out of wedlock, adultery, even–as I understand it– refusal to attend mass, among other sins. To the best of my knowledge, Catholic schools haven’t been terminating teachers who transgress those rules.
Why this very selective enforcement of doctrine?
And why does the State of Indiana allow public voucher funds to be used at schools like Cathedral and Roncalli that openly discriminate against a subset of Indiana citizens? Inquiring minds want to know–or really, we can guess.