Court upholds Catholic school's right to pick its teachers

A federal appeals court has upheld the right of Catholic schools to pick and choose their own teachers.

According to a report from Becket, it is the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago that decided, in Starkey v. Roncalli High School and Archdiocese of Indianapolis, that the case should be dismissed.

It was brought by a former co-director of guidance at a Catholic high school after her contract was not renewed because she entered into a same-sex union in violation of her contract and church teachings.

“The court ruled that the lawsuit must be dismissed because the Constitution forbids the government from interfering with a religious school’s selection of who will pass on the faith to the next generation,” Becket reported.

“Roncalli High School asks its teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors to sign a contract agreeing to uphold Catholic Church teachings in both their professional and personal lives. In August 2018, Lynn Starkey told Roncalli leadership that she was in a same-sex union in violation of her contract and centuries-old Catholic teaching,” Becket reported.

“The school then explained that it could not renew her contract in light of her opposition to Catholic teaching. Ms. Starkey sued both Roncalli and the archdiocese, arguing that they had discriminated against her based on her sexual orientation,” Becket said.

Luke Goodrich, senior counsel at Becket, explained, “Religious groups have a constitutional right to hire individuals who believe in their faith’s ideals and are committed to their religious mission. Our justice system has consistently ruled that the government cannot intrude on a religious organization’s choice of who will pass on the faith to the next generation.”

The court cited Supreme Court rulings on the topic in its decision.

“Catholic schools are tasked by the church to uphold the dignity of every human person and teach the fullness of the Catholic faith,” said Goodrich. “The Seventh Circuit’s decision ensures that religious schools can remain faithful to their mission.”

A report at Just the News explained the court ruling found that Starkey, as a guidance counselor, held “ministerial duties” in the school.

The appeals court came to the same conclusion that a district court earlier had reached.

“Starkey was a minister because she was entrusted with communicating the Catholic faith to the school’s students and guiding the school’s religious mission,” the appeals court wrote. “The ministerial exception bars all her claims, federal and state. This opinion therefore does not reach the parties’ Title VII, RFRA, or other constitutional arguments. We AFFIRM the district court.”

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