Press Release

Federal appeals court upholds religious school's freedom to choose its leaders Seventh Circuit tosses lawsuit challenging religious employment standards for religious schools

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

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WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court today ruled that faith-based schools are free to choose leaders who will uphold their core religious beliefs. In Fitzgerald v. Roncalli High School and Archdiocese of Indianapolis, a former co-director of guidance at a Catholic high school sued the school and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis after her contract was not renewed because she entered a same-sex union in violation of her contract and Catholic teaching. Today the court dismissed her case, ruling that the Constitution forbids the government from interfering with a religious school’s selection of who will pass on the faith to the next generation. 

At Roncalli High School, education goes beyond the basic subjects to help form students’ hearts and minds in the Catholic faith. To accomplish that mission, Roncalli asks its teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors to sign contracts agreeing to uphold Church teaching in both word and deed. In 2018, Shelly Fitzgerald, the co-director of guidance, told the school she was in a same-sex union in violation of her contract and millennia-old Catholic teaching. The school then declined to renew her contract for the following year. Soon after, Fitzgerald sued the school and Archdiocese. Today the court threw out her lawsuit, stating that the law protects Catholic schools’ ability to choose leaders who will impart the faith to students. 

Religious schools exist to pass on the faith to the next generation, and to do that, they need the freedom to choose leaders who are fully committed to their religious mission,” said Joseph Davis, counsel at Becket.The precedent keeps piling up: Catholic schools can ask Catholic school teachers and administrators to be fully supportive of Catholic teaching.” 

This ruling is the latest in a string of court decisions protecting the leadership choices of the Archdiocese and other faith-based schools. Last summer, a federal court threw out a similar lawsuit by another guidance counselor at Roncalli High School in Starkey v. Roncalli High School and Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Soon after, the Indiana Supreme Court did the same in Payne-Elliot v. Archdiocese of Indianapolis. These rulings build on Becket’s successful defense of religious groups’ leadership decisions at the Supreme Court in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Evangelical School v. EEOC. 

“Today’s ruling is common-sense: decisions about who conveys the Catholic faith to Catholic school children are for the Church, not the government,” said Davis. “Many parents entrust their children to religious schools precisely because those schools help to pass on the faith, and this victory ensures they remain free to do so.” 

Fitzgerald has 90 days to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

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, Mandarin, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.