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Court Refuses To Dismiss Catholic School Teacher’s Suit On Church Autonomy Grounds

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Payne-Elliott v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Inc.(IN Super. Ct., May 1, 2020), an Indiana trial court refused to dismiss a lawsuit against the Catholic Archdiocese brought by a teacher who claims that the Archdiocese interfered with his contractual relationship with Cathedral High School, an independent school that had a relationship with the Archdiocese. The teacher was fired pursuant to a directive from the Archdiocese issued after the teacher entered a same-sex marriage. The school feared that if it did not comply, the Archdiocese would no longer recognize it as a Catholic institution. The Archdiocese argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed under the “church autonomy” doctrine. The court said in part:

In civil dispute involving church as party, the court has jurisdiction to resolve the case if it can be done without resolving an ecclesiastical controversy. The court can avoid the religious controversy by deferring to the highest authority within the ecclesiastical body….

… [T]his Court cannot determine that the directive by the Archdiocese to terminate Payne-Elliott was made by the highest authority in the ecclesiastical body of Cathedral or of the Roman Catholic Church.“

The court also questioned whether the case involved an ecclesiastical controversy at all:

… [A] letter from the President and Chairman of the Board of Cathedral elaborates as to ”What is at stake?” Therein, Cathedral states: ”Furthermore, Cathedral would lose its 501(c)(3) status thus rendering Cathedral unable to operate as nonprofit school.” This rational for firing Payne-Elliott is important,… If Payne-Elliott was terminated by Cathedral for an economic benefit to Cathedral at the direction of the Archdiocese, then that is different matter than Catholic doctrine.

The court also refused to accept several other grounds for dismissal put forward by the Archdiocese.  Indiana Lawyer reports on the decision.

You can learn more about this issue here.

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