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Appeals Court Rules Religious Schools Have Right to Choose Faithful Leaders, Dismisses Gay Ex-Employee Lawsuit

(Screenshot credit: Roncalli High School/YouTube)

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, based out of Chicago, Illinois, has affirmed the freedom of religious schools to choose leaders who will uphold their core religious teachings. 

In the case, Starkey v. Roncalli High School and Archdiocese of Indianapolis, a former co-director of guidance at a Catholic high school sued the Archdiocese after her contract was not renewed because she entered a same-sex union in violation of her contract and Catholic teaching. 

The appeals court ruled that the former employee's lawsuit must be dismissed because the Constitution forbids the government from interfering with a religious school's selection of who will pass on the faith to its students.  

"Religious groups have a constitutional right to hire individuals who believe in their faith's ideals and are committed to their religious mission," said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at the religious liberty law firm called Becket. "Our justice system has consistently ruled that the government cannot intrude on a religious organization's choice of who will pass on the faith to the next generation." 

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

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

In 2018, Starkey told Roncalli leadership that she was in a same-sex union in violation of her contract and centuries-old Catholic teaching. 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.

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 lower 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 federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, and Starkey appealed to the Seventh Circuit. 

In its opinion, the Seventh Circuit looked to the Supreme Court's decisions in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Evangelical School v. EEOC, which protect churches and religious institutions from government interference. 

Both are prior Becket cases, and both recognize the principle of the "ministerial exception"—the right of religious organizations to choose who will carry out their religious responsibilities.  

"Catholic schools are tasked by the Church to uphold the dignity of every human person and teach the fullness of the Catholic faith," said Goodrich. "The Seventh Circuit's decision ensures that religious schools can remain faithful to their mission." 

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