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Federal court rules that Indiana Catholic school can fire staff in a same-sex marriage

by Premier Journalist
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Roncalli High School Facebook Page

A federal court has ruled in favor of an Indiana Catholic high school's decision to remove a counselor after discovering they were in a same-sex marriage.

In 2019, Lynn Starkey had sued the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis and her former employer, Roncalli High School, after the school decided to fire her and another counselor over breaching the traditional Catholic understanding of marriage. The diocese told the paper the Indianapolis Star that Starkey had "knowingly violated that contract by entering a same-sex civil union - making clear that she disagrees with the Church's teaching on marriage and will not be able to uphold and model it for her students."

A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that the Archdiocese and Roncalli High School were free to fire Starkey based on its religious standards. "When the state interferes with these types of employment decisions, it violates both the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment," writes District Judge Richard Young.

According to Judge Young, "The ministerial exception is not limited to claims of religious discrimination; it bars all claims of discrimination under Title VII, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."

The court would later note that Starkey had played a crucial part in forming the spiritual environment of the school, which did affect the judgment. The spiritual nature of this employment lead Young to conclude that while Starkey presented her career as solely a matter of secular identity, it "does not change the result because it would be inappropriate for this court to draw a distinction between secular and religious guidance offered by a guidance counselor at a Catholic school."

Becket, a law firm that often handles religious cases like this, praised the ruling in a pre-written statement. "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.

Starkey's attorney expressed disappointment at the decision, telling the Indianapolis Star: "We're disappointed with the court's ruling and concerned about its potential impact, not just on Lynn Starkey, but on all educators in religious schools,"

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