Same-sex marriage counselor fired by Indiana Catholic school plans appeal

Same-sex marriage counselor fired by Catholic school plans to appeal Sept. 30 dismissal her lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Attorneys for Shelly Fitzgerald, a former employee at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, said Monday.

Ms. Fitzgerald and her wife, Lynn Starkey, another counselor at Roncalli High, were let go after school officials learned of their union in 2019.

Mrs. Starkey lost a similar case against the Catholic school and the archdiocese in August.

Rachel Lazer, president and CEO of the advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represents Ms. Fitzgerald, said the counselor was “not hired to minister to students or to preach the Catholic religion.”

Ms. Lazer said the counselor provided “secular guidance to students who wanted to go to college” and “shouldn’t have lost her civil rights just because the secular work she did was done at a religious school.”

Ms. Fitzgerald argued that her same-sex marriage was “protected conduct” under federal employment law. In response, the school and the archdiocese said the Supreme Court’s granting of the “ministerial exemption” under Hosanna-Tabor 9-0 in 2012 allowed religious institutions to appoint employees as “ministers” and thus be subject to religious restrictions.

In 2018, Ms. Fitzgerald signed a “Leadership Contract” with Roncalli School, which stipulated that she would serve as a “minister of the faith” and be required to “communicate the Catholic faith to students, pray with students, and teach and honor Catholic traditions “.

Ms. Lazer said the Sept. 30 decision in favor of Catholic institutions was wrong: “Under the proposed rationale, a Catholic school could strip every employee from the janitor to the cook to the physical education teacher to the guidance counselor. basic civil rights laws by including several religious duties in job descriptions,” she said.

Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel for the public law firm Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which defended the school and the archdiocese in both lawsuits, said the August ruling against Ms. Starkey suggests this new appeal is unlikely to succeed.

“The Seventh Circuit just accepted an identical appeal just three months ago and unanimously upheld the archdiocese’s freedom to choose leaders who are fully committed to their religious mission,” Mr. Goodrich said in a statement. “We look forward to another decision that affirms this basic constitutional right and ensures that the archdiocese can continue to provide an authentic Catholic education based on the dignity of every person,” he added.

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