In Indiana, a win for religious freedom

The Trump Justice Department aggressively protected religious rights and liberties. In this post from December 2019, I described five cases in which the DOJ, under the leadership of Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, filed papers in defense of religious freedom.

One of them was a case from Indianapolis, Indiana. In that case, the DOJ sided with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis which had been sued for firing a teacher in a Catholic school due to the teacher’s same sex marriage. I wrote:

I don’t like to see anyone fired over a same-sex marriage, but I agree with the DOJ that the First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion and gives faith-based schools the right not to associate with people whose actions fly in the face of church doctrine.

Now, an Indiana court has also agreed with the Trump DOJ. It dismissed the teacher’s lawsuit against the Archdiocese. The court’s one-page order is here. The Archdiocese’s 31-page brief in support of its motion to dismiss is here.

The Justice Department’s Statement of Interest to the court is here. It concludes with this passage:

The First Amendment demands that this lawsuit be dismissed. Perhaps anticipating lawsuits like this one, the Supreme Court, in cementing Plaintiff’s constitutional right to civilly marry the person of his choosing, took care both to emphasize that “[m]any who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises,” and to reinforce the longstanding right of religious organizations to freely exercise their faith, which may include advocat[ing] . . . that, by divine precepts, same sex marriage should not be condoned.” Obergefell, 135 S. Ct. at 2602, 2607.

The Archdiocese has done exactly that. The Archdiocese determined that, consistent with its interpretation of Church teachings, a school within its diocesan boundaries cannot identify as Catholic and simultaneously employ a teacher in a public, same-sex marriage. Many may lament the Archdiocese’s determination. But the First Amendment forbids this Court from interfering with the Archdiocese’s right to expressive association, and from second-guessing the Archdiocese’s interpretation and application of Catholic law. . . .

Becket, which defended the Archdiocese, discusses the ruling here. It states:

If the First Amendment means anything, it means the government can’t punish the Catholic Church for asking Catholic educators to support Catholic teaching. This has always been a very simple case, because the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed the freedom of religious schools to choose teachers who support their religious faith.

I imagine the teacher will appeal. I imagine, too, that the Biden DOJ won’t support the Archdiocese. I hope it will stay out of the case and not cause the Department to do an embarrassing about-face.

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