Press Release

Federal appeals court protects religious school’s freedom to hire faithful teachers Fourth Circuit says Catholic Church can ask its schoolteachers to uphold the Catholic faith

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

Photo of Charlotte Catholic High School in North Carolina

WASHINGTON A federal appeals court today protected a Catholic school’s freedom to hire schoolteachers who uphold its religious beliefs. In Billard v. Diocese of Charlotte, a former substitute teacher sued the school and diocese for not calling him back to work as a substitute teacher after he entered a same-sex union and posted about it on Facebook. Today, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed the diocese’s freedom to choose teachers who will uphold and help pass on the faith to the next generation.  

The Diocese of Charlotte has operated Catholic schools across western North Carolina for more than 50 years. Its 20 schools provide a top-notch education that also helps students grow in the Catholic faith, making the opportunity widely available to students of all backgrounds in part through generous financial aid. To ensure teachers are helping the diocese fulfill its mission, the diocese asks all of its teachers – Catholic and non-Catholic – to uphold the Catholic faith in word and deed. 

“Many of our parents work long hours and make significant sacrifices so their children can attend our schools and receive a faithful Catholic education,” said Assistant Superintendent Allana Ramkissoon. “That’s because we inspire our students not only to harness the lessons and tools they need to thrive, but to cherish their faith as a precious gift from God.”  

Lonnie Billard taught English and drama at Charlotte Catholic High School for over a decade before retiring and then returning to Charlotte Catholic as a substitute teacher. Billard received training in the school’s religious mission and signed a contract agreeing to uphold Church teaching. In 2015, he entered a same-sex union in knowing violation of Church teaching and wrote about it on Facebook, where he was friends with many of the school’s faculty and families. When the school stopped calling him to work as a substitute teacher, he partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the school and the diocese, seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation. 

In its ruling today, the court protected the Catholic Church’s freedom to employ teachers who agree to uphold Catholic teaching. As the court explained, the First Amendment requires civil courts to ‘“stay out’ of employment disputes involving ministers.” And here, the court found that Billard was a minister because Charlotte Catholic required all its teachers to “model and promote Catholic faith and morals.” Billard, therefore, played a “vital role” in advancing the school’s religious mission. This was true even though Billard taught secular subjects like English and drama. As the court put it: “Billard may have been teaching Romeo and Juliet, but he was doing so after consultation with religious teachers to ensure that he was teaching through a faith-based lens.” Having found that Billard was a minister, the court held that Billard’s lawsuit could not proceed, thus ruling in favor of Charlotte Catholic.  

“The Supreme Court has been crystal clear on this issue: Catholic schools have the freedom to choose teachers who fully support Catholic teaching,” said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which represents the diocese in the case. “This is a victory for people of all faiths who cherish the freedom to pass on their faith to the next generation.”  

Billard has 14 days to ask the Fourth Circuit to rehear his case or 90 days to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby atmedia@becketlaw.orgor 202-349-7219.