WASHINGTON- A federal court in Indiana today ruled that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and its schools are free to choose leaders who will uphold their core religious teachings. The ruling in Fitzgerald v. Roncalli High School and Archdiocese of Indianapolis is the latest in a string of court victories protecting religious institutions from government interference in internal religious matters.
At Roncalli High School, education goes beyond the basic subjects by forming students’ hearts and minds in the Catholic faith. To that end, Roncalli asks its teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors to sign contracts agreeing to uphold Catholic Church teachings in both word and deed. In 2018, Shelly Fitzgerald, the Co-Director of guidance at the school, confirmed to the school that she had entered a same-sex union in violation of her contract and of Catholic teaching. The school then declined to renew her contract for the following year. Ms. Fitzgerald sued the school and the Archdiocese, alleging that its desire to uphold the Catholic faith is a form of discrimination. Today, the federal court threw out her lawsuit, stating that the Constitution protects Roncalli’s decision, because “Roncalli entrusted Fitzgerald to teach the Catholic faith and carry out Roncalli’s religious mission.”
“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,” said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket. “This is a common-sense ruling: 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.”
The ruling is the latest in a string of court decisions protecting the hiring decisions of the Archdiocese and other religious schools. In July 2022, a federal appeals court in Chicago threw out a similar lawsuit by another guidance counselor at Roncalli High School in Starkey v. Roncalli High School and Archdiocese of Indianapolis. In August 2022, the Indiana Supreme Court did the same in Payne-Elliott v. Archdiocese of Indianapolis, explaining that the “Constitution encompasses the right of religious institutions to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government.” These rulings build on Supreme Court precedent set in other Becket cases, including the 2020 ruling in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and the 2012 ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Evangelical School v. EEOC.
“Today is a great victory for not only the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, but for every religious institution seeking to instill their faith in the next generation,” said Luke Goodrich, senior counsel and vice president at Becket. “Teachers, counselors, and other school staff have an important role in students’ lives. We are glad the court decided to let Roncalli decide for itself who should have that responsibility.”
The Archdiocese is also represented by Jay Mercer of Fitzwater Mercer.
For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby at email@example.com or 202-349-7219. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.