A federal court in Indiana ruled on Friday in favor of a Catholic private school that fired a teacher who had entered into a same-sex union in violation of her contract with the institution.
The Archdiocese of Indianapolis and its schools can select, retain, or dismiss faculty according to their religious standards, Judge Richard Young decided in Fitzgerald v. Roncalli High School and Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
The case concerned instructor Shelly Fitzgerald, the co-director of guidance at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, whose employment was terminated after she confirmed to the school three months after starting work there that she was in a same-sex union. The school placed her on administrative leave and declined to renew her contract for the following year, claiming that Fitzgerald's admitted conduct was prohibited by the agreement she signed when she was hired. The guidance counselor subsequently launched a discrimination lawsuit against Roncalli and the archdiocese.
On Thursday, the court threw out the lawsuit, noting that "Roncalli entrusted Fitzgerald to teach the Catholic faith and carry out Roncalli's religious mission," which she failed to do. In the contract she signed, the school described Fitzgerald as a "minister of faith." The contract also contained a "default" clause stipulating that Fitzgerald would forfeit her position if she engaged in "personal conduct . . . at variance with . . . the moral or religious teachings of the Roman Catholic Church." Catholic doctrine states that marriage must be between a man and a woman.
"The Supreme Court has long recognized that religious organizations have a constitutional right to hire individuals who believe in their faith's ideals and are committed to their religious mission," Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the defendants, said in a press release. "This is a common-sense ruling: Catholic schools exist to pass on the Catholic faith to their students; to do that, they need freedom to ask Catholic educators to uphold Catholic values."
In his judgment, Young acknowledged that it is a "stretch" for Roncalli to charge a guidance counselor with ministry, since it is a traditionally secular role. But he wrote that it was clear that the school expected, through the agreement and faculty handbooks, Fitzgerald to be a spiritual custodian for the students. Therefore, Fitzgerald broke the contract with her actions, and Roncalli's removal of her was justified, he said.
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