Press Release

U.S. Justice Department supports Archdiocese of Indianapolis in religious freedom case DOJ urges Indiana court to stay out of deciding what it means to be Catholic

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

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WASHINGTON – The United States Department of Justice filed a statement of interest on Friday supporting the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’s right to decide what it means to be Catholic without government interference. In Payne-Elliott v. Archdiocese of Indianapolis, a former teacher is suing the Archdiocese after he lost his job at a Catholic high school for entering a same-sex civil union in violation of his employment agreement. The Justice Department’s statement says, “The First Amendment demands that this lawsuit be dismissed.”

All teachers in the Archdiocese’s schools agree to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church in both their professional and private lives. In 2017, Joshua Payne-Elliott, who taught at Cathedral Catholic High School in Indianapolis, entered a same-sex civil union in violation of both his employment agreement and centuries of Catholic teaching. After two years of discernment and dialogue, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis informed the school that if it wanted to remain affiliated with the Catholic Church, it needed to require that its teachers not live in defiance of Church teaching. Cathedral then separated from Mr. Payne-Elliott, who sued the Archdiocese, alleging that the Archdiocese illegally interfered with his agreement.

“If the First Amendment means anything, it means the government can’t punish the Catholic Church for saying who is Catholic,” said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which is representing the Archdiocese. “This lawsuit fails on so many levels; we’re glad to see the Department of Justice weighing in.”

It is relatively rare for the Department of Justice to file a statement of interest in state court. The Department tends to file statements of interest only when a violation of federal law is particularly clear or significant. Mr. Payne-Elliott’s lawsuit was filed on July 10 in Marion Superior Court in Indianapolis. The Archdiocese has asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed, and a decision is expected in the coming weeks.

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.