Billard v. Diocese of Charlotte

The Diocese’s Dedication 

As an essential part of its mission to pass on the Catholic faith, the Diocese of Charlotte operates 19 schools across western North Carolina, including nine in the fast-growing Charlotte area. The Diocese’s schools are sought after for a reason: they not only provide an academically rigorous education in a diverse environment; they are also committed to teaching students the Catholic faith. To accomplish its religious mission, the Diocese asks all employees to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church. 

The Lawsuit  

Lonnie Billard taught English and Drama at Charlotte Catholic High School for 12 years before retiring and transferring to a substitute role. To teach at Charlotte Catholic, he signed a contract agreeing to uphold teachings of the Catholic Church. But in 2015, he entered a same-sex marriage in knowing violation of Catholic teaching and made public statements on social media advocating against Church teaching. When the school chose not to keep calling Billard as a substitute teacher, he partnered with the ACLU to sue the school and the Diocese for asking their teachers to support the school’s religious mission. 

Upholding a Religious Mission 

The Constitution and federal law protect the right of parents to direct the religious education of their children, and the right of religious institutions like the Diocese of Charlotte to select teachers who agree to uphold their religious mission. These rights have repeatedly been upheld by the Supreme Court, which has emphasized that “educating young people in their faith, inculcating its teachings, and training them to live their faith are responsibilities that lie at the very core of the mission of a private religious school.” Religious organizations must be free to choose those who carry out their religious mission. This not only protects the fundamental freedoms of parents and religious schools to decide how to pass on their faith, but also protects the proper separation of church and state. 

On September 3, 2021, a federal district court in Charlotte, North Carolina, ruled against the Diocese of Charlotte. The Diocese appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which on May 8, 2024, reversed the district court and affirmed that faith-based schools like Charlotte Catholic enjoy broad freedom to employ teachers who agree to uphold their faith. The court explained that Billard was a minister because Charlotte Catholic required all its teachers to “model and promote Catholic faith and morals, making Billard, as a teacher at the school, a messenger’ of its faith.” The Fourth Circuit reiterated that teachers at faith-based schools “are different, because they are entrusted with “responsibilities that lie at the very core of the mission of a private religious school.Since the First Amendment states that civil courts are “’bound to stay out’ of employment disputes involving ministers,” the court held that Billard’s lawsuit could not proceed. 

The Diocese of Charlotte is represented by Becket and Troutman Pepper. 

Importance for Religious Liberty: 

  • Freedom of religious groups from state intrusion on religious affairs: Churches and religious organizations have a right to live, teach, and organize themselves in accordance with the tenets of their faith. When the government unjustly interferes in internal church affairs, the separation of church and state is threatened. The First Amendment ensures a church’s right to self-definition and free association.  

Myrick v. Warren

Targeted for her religious beliefs

Religious liberty and LGBT rights don’t have to be in conflict. No one knows that better than Gayle Myrick.

Gayle Myrick was a well-respected magistrate in North Carolina for many years. As a magistrate she issued warrants, set bail, handled traffic fines, and—on rare occasions—performed wedding ceremonies.

Gayle loved helping others and treating everyone fairly. She always received top performance reviews and positive feedback. When same-sex marriage became legal, Gayle didn’t want to stop anyone from getting married. But she also knew that her religious beliefs prevented her from performing a same-sex wedding ceremony.

A commonsense solution

Since handling weddings was such a small portion of her work, Gayle’s immediate supervisor proposed a solution—simply shift Gayle’s schedule by a couple hours so that she was not on duty when the county offered weddings. The government frequently offered similar scheduling accommodations to other magistrates for a variety of reasons, from simple things like going fishing to larger issues like night classes or even drug rehab.

This was a reasonable solution: Every couple would still get married without any delay or embarrassment, and Gayle would get to keep her job.

Unfortunately, the state government rejected this solution and made clear Gayle had to choose: her faith or her job. Gayle was forced to resign, which meant she lost her retirement and the job she loved.

Becket defends dignity in our diverse society

With the help of Becket and North Carolina attorney Ellis Boyle, Gayle filed a claim of religious discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under a federal civil rights law that protects government workers. In March 2017, a federal judge said in a landmark ruling that the government broke the law when it refused to let Gayle shift her schedule, especially since other magistrates were allowed to shift their schedules all the time. The government also acknowledged it had treated Gayle unfairly, and in January 2018, agreed to pay a substantial amount to make her whole and give back the pay and retirement benefits that were unjustly taken from her. The state later passed a law making sure no magistrates would be targeted for their religious beliefs and no one would be denied a prompt marriage.

Faith and sexual orientation are deeply important to the identity of many people, and this case shows that these two things don’t have to be at odds with each other. From a Jewish worker’s need to keep the Sabbath, to a Muslim employee’s need to engage in daily prayer, there are thousands of examples of reasonable solutions in the workplace that protect the dignity of everyone. Our civil rights laws help us create a society where people with diverse views can live alongside each other without conflict.

Importance to religious liberty:

  • Individual freedom: The government cannot force religious individuals to violate their deeply held beliefs to further a government goal when there are other ways for the government to accomplish that goal, and when the government already accommodates exemptions for secular reasons.