The Indiana Supreme Court ruled on Aug. 31 that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indiana was within its rights to direct the termination of a Catholic-school teacher who was married to a person of the same gender.
The Archdiocese threatened to rescind the "Catholic" designation of both the teacher's school and the school the teacher's spouse taught at were the two men retained by their respective institutions, according to the Aug. 31 Court ruling.
Joshua Payne-Elliott, who was employed as a languages instructor at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis from 2006-2019, sued after the Archdiocese insisted on his firing after marrying his spouse in 2017. His spouse's school refused to comply with the Archdiocese's directive, ultimately losing its Catholic designation over the matter.
Cathedral High School, however, did comply, terminating Payne-Elliott's employment and citing as its sole reason the Archdiocese's directive. On a posting to the Cathedral website, school officials said, "Archbishop [Charles] Thompson made it clear that Cathedral's 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."
Payne-Elliott later sued Cathedral for breach of contract; that case was settled. He also filed suit against the Archdiocese in Marion County Superior Court; that suit was dismissed, but the Court of Appeals of Indiana ruled that the dismissal occurred in error.
The four Supreme Court judges ruling on the matter said in their decision that the initial court dismissal was indeed in error, but Payne-Elliott nevertheless never had any substantial ground for the suit, since his employment hinged on matters between the Archdiocese and Cathedral.
According the ruling, precedent had established that "under the church-autonomy doctrine a civil court may not (1) penalize via tort law (2) a communication or coordination among church officials or members (3) on a matter of internal church policy or administration that (4) does not culminate in a criminal act."
Indiana's church-autonomy rules thus superseded any standing that Payne-Elliott may had had in the case, the court said. In 2019, the Trump-era Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest in support of the Archdiocese.