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The Trump administration thinks it’s absolutely fine for Catholic schools to fire teachers for being gay

Nick Duffy September 9, 2020
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President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence give a thumbs up after speaking on the first day of the Republican National Convention

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence give a thumbs up after speaking on the first day of the Republican National Convention (Chris Carlson-Pool/Getty)

The Trump administration’s Department of Justice (DoJ) has intervened in a legal battle to defend the right to force out a Catholic school teacher based on his sexual orientation.

The case revolves around language and social studies teacher Joshua Payne-Elliott, who was sacked from his job at Cathedral High School, Indianapolis after 13 years because he got married to a man.

Payne-Elliot is pursuing a discrimination and contractual interference claim against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, which had threatened to revoke the school’s Catholic status unless it agreed to dismiss him.

The archdiocese has sought to dismiss the complaint, arguing it has a constitutional right to discriminate against gay people under the First Amendment — and on Tuesday (September 8), DoJ attorney Josh Minkler filed a 36-page brief before the Indiana Supreme Court agreeing with the church.

Trump administration says it’s fine to fire gay teachers because they ‘contradict Catholic teaching’ and might make kids atheists.

In the brief, Minkler argues that the decision to force out Payne-Elliott is protected by the constitution because the Archdiocese “requested Payne-Elliott’s dismissal expressly on religious grounds”.

Minkler suggests that permitting his continued employment “would interfere with the Archdiocese’s public expression of church doctrine regarding marriage”.

Joshua Payne-Elliott (right) and his husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, were both employed as Catholic school teachers before Joshua was fired.
Joshua Payne-Elliott (right) and his husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, were both employed as Catholic school teachers before Joshua was fired. (Delaney and Delaney)

The Trump administration brief contends: “Part of Payne-Elliott’s role was to inculcate the faith among his students, including on the specific issue of the Church’s teaching on marriage.

“Teachers are the principal actors that a religious school entrusts to carry out its mission of passing on the faith to the next generation.

“Teachers like Payne-Elliott are uniquely positioned to influence students, and they can use that influence to help the students grow in faith or, if they contradict the Church’s teachings, to turn students away from the faith.”

The brief also insists that the Archbishop has “authority to grant or withhold consent to a school’s identification as ‘Catholic’ based upon his review of whether the school follows canon law standards, including that its ‘teachers are outstanding in correct doctrine and integrity of life'”.

Husband of sacked teacher also faced an attempted ousting.

Joshua Payne-Elliott’s husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, was employed at a separate Catholic school in the archdiocese, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School.

Brebeuf also received an order from the Archdiocese to sack the teacher — but refused to do so, and had its Catholic school status taken away as a result.

Gina Fleming, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Indianapolis archdiocese, insisted: “It is a privilege not a right to work and serve in our Catholic schools.”

At a press conference last year, archbishop of Indianapolis Charles Thompson was asked whether he would also force schools to fire teachers who used birth control or lived with a partner before marriage.

He insisted: “This is not a witch hunt. We don’t go looking for these situations. When they’re brought to my attention though, it is my responsibility, my duty to oversee the living of the faith, especially of all ministerial witnesses.”

Related topics: archdiocese, Catholic, Donald Trump

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