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Indiana Supreme Court weighs future of lawsuit between Archdiocese, gay teacher

The Indiana Supreme Court chambers in the Indiana Statehouse. There are plexiglass dividers between each justice's desk, installed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lauren Chapman
/
IPB News
The Indiana Supreme Court must decide whether a lawsuit by a gay teacher against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis will move forward.

A gay teacher at a Catholic high school in Indianapolis sued the Archdiocese after he was fired. The Indiana Supreme Court must now decide whether his case against the Archdiocese will move forward.

The court held a hearing on the issue Tuesday.

Joshua Payne-Elliott had been a teacher at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis since 2006. In 2017, he married his partner. And two years later, Payne-Elliott was fired after a directive from the Archdiocese.

Payne-Elliott has already settled with the high school. His lawsuit against the Archdiocese claims the Catholic organization interfered with his contract.

The Archdiocese has tried several times to end the case. Attorney Luke Goodrich represented the Archdiocese before the state Supreme Court. He said Payne-Elliott’s firing is about internal church governance.

“Church autonomy carves out a fundamental realm in which civil courts and civil governments are not meant to intrude,” Goodrich said.

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A trial court sided with the Archdiocese, dismissing the case in one of its earliest stages. But the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court had halted proceedings too soon.

Attorney Matthew Gutwein, representing the teacher, said the church shouldn’t be allowed to halt the lawsuit so early just by claiming religious autonomy.

“The general rule, which we have lived under for 200 years, is that religious organizations must comply with civil and criminal law – even when their conduct is religiously motivated,” Gutwein said.

There’s no timetable for when the Supreme Court will make a decision.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri.