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Indianapolis archdiocese: Government can’t interfere in Catholic schools’ mission

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Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2021 / 11:00 am America/Denver (CNA).

Catholic schools must be free to uphold the Church’s teachings, lawyers for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis said after a federal judge allowed a lawsuit against the archdiocese to proceed.

Judge Richard Young of the Southern District of Indiana ruled on March 31 that a former counselor at a Catholic school in the archdiocese, who was fired for contracting a same-sex marriage, can proceed with her discrimination lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Shelly Fitzgerald, a guidance counselor and co-director of guidance at Roncalli Catholic High School in Indianapolis had been placed on administrative leave in 2018. School officials said that by previously contracting a same-sex marriage, Fitzgerald had violated their conduct policy that counselors uphold Church teaching. Her contract was not renewed when it expired later in 2019. Fitzgerald filed a discrimination lawsuit against the archdiocese.

In response, Becket – a legal firm which represents the archdiocese in a separate case before the Supreme Court – said on Tuesday that the school’s religious conduct policy is protected by the Constitution.

The high court “has repeatedly recognized that religious schools have a constitutional right to hire leaders who support the schools’ religious mission,” said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, in a statement provided to CNA on Tuesday. “We are confident that the judicial system will ultimately protect this basic right.”

“If the First Amendment means anything, it means the government can’t punish the Catholic Church for asking Catholic educators to support Catholic teaching,” Goodrich said.

Fitzgerald, who worked at Roncalli from 2004 until 2019, had civilly married another woman in 2014.

In 2017, both the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and Roncalli revised their guidance counselor contracts to include a ministry statement; the statement required counselors to abide by the teachings of the Church in their conduct.

In August 2018, Roncalli officials met with Fitzgerald and told her they knew of her same-sex marriage contract. They gave Fitzgerald the options of resigning, dissolving her marriage contract, or maintaining discretion about her situation until her contract expired. Fitzgerald refused all three options, and she was placed on administrative leave. Nine months later in May 2019, school officials told her that her contract would not be renewed.

In October 2019, Fitzgerald sued the archdiocese, alleging sexual orientation discrimination, retaliation, and hostile workplace environment. Her lawyer argued that she had been treated differently by the school than other employees who had not abided by the Church’s teachings.

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