By Wilson Wong
In a 35-page amicus brief filed on Tuesday, the Department of Justice argued that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis — which fired gay high school teacher Joshua Payne-Elliott last year — is, like other religious employers in the U.S., “entitled to employ in key roles only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent” with its “religious precepts.” In addition, the brief states, the “Constitution bars the government from interfering with the autonomy of religious organizations.”
Part of the DOJ’s argument relies on the “ministerial exception,” a constitutional protection for religious institutions to prevent government interference in the hiring and firing of “ministerial” employees. What constitutes a “ministerial” employee, however, is a point of contention.
The government’s brief argues that Payne-Elliott, a world language and social studies teacher at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, fits into this category, stating that he has “the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith” and continuing to employ him would “interfere with the Archdiocese’s public expression of Church doctrine regarding marriage.”
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