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Federal Judge Upholds Rights of Catholic School, Archdiocese to Make Own Religious Employment Decisions

08-11-2021
Image Source: YouTube Screenshot/Roncalli High School
Image Source: YouTube Screenshot/Roncalli High School

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a former Catholic-school guidance counselor who broke her contract by entering a same-sex union which is a violation of church teaching. 

Lynn Starkey sued Roncalli High School, a private Catholic school in Indianapolis, Indiana, and the Archdiocese in 2019 alleging "discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment."

She also claims the Archdiocese and school interfered with her contractual and employment relationship on the basis of her sexual orientation. 

Attorneys with Becket Law defended the Archdiocese and argued that it is unlawful for the government to force the Catholic Church to hire educators who oppose Catholic teachings.

The court agreed, ruling that "the decision to not renew Starkey's employment contract goes to the heart of the church's right to 'select and control who will minister to the faithful.'"

The lawsuit was filed after the high school principal told Starkey that she had breached her employment agreement because she was in a same-sex marriage, therefore, her contract would not be renewed for the next school year. 

After signing the agreement, every administrator, teacher, and guidance counselor is expected to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church privately and professionally.

"Today's ruling is common sense: religious groups have a constitutional right to hire people who agree with their religious beliefs and practices," said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket. "At all levels of the judiciary, courts have made clear that the government has no place interfering with a religious organization's decision about who can pass on the faith to the next generation." 

Goodrich added, "Today's decision ensures that religious schools can remain faithful to their religious mission."

Archdiocese spokesperson Greg Otolski said Starkey's view of marriage fundamentally goes against the Church's principles.

"Ms. Starkey is currently in breach of her contract with Roncalli High School," he said. "She is in a civil union that is considered 'contrary to a valid marriage as seen through the eyes of the Catholic Church.'"

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