Press Release

Appeals court protects religious school’s right to choose its leaders Court tosses lawsuit challenging religious standards for religious leaders

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

WASHINGTON – The Chicago-based Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the freedom of religious schools to choose leaders who will uphold their core religious teachings. In Starkey v. Roncalli High School and Archdiocese of Indianapolis, a former co-director of guidance at a Catholic high school sued the Archdiocese after her contract was not renewed because she entered a same-sex union in violation of her contract and Catholic teaching. 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 students.  

Roncalli High School in Indianapolis 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. The school then explained that it could not renew her contract in light of her not conforming to Catholic teaching. Ms. Starkey sued both Roncalli and the Archdiocese, arguing that they had discriminated against her based on her sexual orientation. 

“Religious groups 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. “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.” 

In its opinion, the Seventh Circuit looked to the Supreme Court’s decisions in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Evangelical School v. EEOC, which protect churches and religious institutions from government interference. Both are prior Becket cases, and both recognize the principle of the “ministerial exception”—the right of religious organizations to choose who will carry out their religious responsibilities.  

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.” 

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby at or 202-349-7219. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.