A federal judge ruled that an Indiana-based Catholic school is within its right to fire a former guidance counselor for being in a same-sex marriage.
According to The Christian Post, former guidance counselor Shelly Fitzgerald sued Roncalli High School in 2019 after the school refused to renew her contract for the following year after discovering that she was in a same-sex marriage during the duration of her 15-year tenure at the school.
The school accused Fitzgerald, who was with her partner for over 20 years, of violating her contract and Catholic teaching. On the other hand, Fitzgerald claimed in the lawsuit that the school discriminated against her.
Judge Richard Young of the U.S. District Court of Southern Indiana ruled on Friday that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis and Roncalli High School have the right to hire school leaders who uphold Catholic teachings under a "ministerial exception."
"Roncalli entrusted Fitzgerald to teach the Catholic faith and carry out Roncalli's religious mission," Young, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, wrote in the ruling.
"Fitzgerald's employment agreement and Roncalli's description of Fitzgerald's expected duties are, alone, sufficient to resolve this case," the opinion added.
"Fitzgerald's employment agreement was a 'teaching ministry contract,' and Fitzgerald
agreed to '[f]aithfully perform all duties of a [t]eacher in the school.'"
Ministerial exceptions give churches and religious institutions legal protection from discrimination lawsuits from employees who perform religious duties. The exception is meant to keep government influence outside of religious institutions.
Fitzgerald, however, argued that her position as a counselor was never designated as a "ministerial" position and did not require religious instruction.
Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel of the religious freedom legal group Becket, represented the archdiocese. Goodrich praised the judge's ruling as a "common-sense ruling" that should be seen as a victory for "every religious institution seeking to instill their faith in the next generation."
"The Supreme Court has long recognized that religious organizations have a constitutional right to hire individuals who believe in their faith's ideals and are committed to their religious mission," Goodrich said in a statement. "Catholic schools exist to pass on the Catholic faith to their students; to do that, they need freedom to ask Catholic educators to uphold Catholic values."
"Teachers, counselors, and other school staff have an important role in students' lives," Goodrich added. "We are glad the court decided to let Roncalli decide for itself who should have that responsibility."
In a separate ruling in July, a three-judge panel for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled in the archdiocese and Roncalli's favor after another ex-Roncalli counselor filed a similar lawsuit in 2018.
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.