Indianapolis, Indiana - The Justice Department Friday filed a Statement of Interest explaining that the First Amendment protects the right of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis to interpret and apply Catholic doctrine. The lawsuit was brought against the Archdiocese by a former teacher who was fired from a Catholic high school within the diocese because he was in a same-sex marriage in contradiction to Catholic teaching on marriage.
The Archdiocese indicated that the school had to terminate the teacher, or the school would forfeit its Catholic identity, which would have led to several repercussions for the school.
“The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right of religious institutions and people to decide what their beliefs are, to teach their faith, and to associate with others who share their faith,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “The First Amendment rightly protects the free exercise of religion.”
“If the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses stand for anything, it is that secular courts cannot entangle themselves in questions of religious law,” said United States Attorney Josh Minkler.
This case stems from a directive issued by the Archdiocese to Cathedral High School, a Catholic school in Indianapolis. The Archdiocese told Cathedral that the school’s continued employment of a teacher in a public, same-sex marriage in contradiction to Catholic teachings on marriage would result in Cathedral’s forfeiture of its Catholic identity. After much deliberation, the school terminated the teacher. The teacher then filed suit against the Archdiocese, claiming the directive to Cathedral interfered with his employment and his contractual relationship with the school.
The government explains in the Statement of Interest that the First Amendment prevents courts from impairing the constitutional rights of religious institutions. The former teacher’s lawsuit attempts to penalize the Archdiocese for determining that schools within its diocese cannot employ teachers in public, same-sex marriages, and simultaneously identify as Catholic. Supreme Court precedent clearly holds that the First Amendment protects the Archdiocese’s right to this form of expressive association, and courts cannot interfere with that right.
The Statement of Interest also makes clear that courts cannot second-guess how religious institutions interpret and apply their own religious laws. Supreme Court precedent explains that the First Amendment forbids courts from engaging in “quintessentially religious controversies.” Instead, as the Statement of Interest explains, “the legitimacy of the Archdiocese’s decision as a matter of Catholic law” is committed exclusively “to the judgment of the Archdiocese.”
In July 2018, the Department of Justice announced the formation of the Religious Liberty Task Force. The Task Force brings together Department components to coordinate their work on religious liberty litigation and policy, and to implement the Attorney General’s 2017 Religious Liberty Guidance.