Court Upholds Catholic School’s Right to Sack Gay Teacher for Online Behavior

demm28 /
demm28 /

In a twist that might make some roll their eyes, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, has come to the rescue of Charlotte Catholic High School and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte.

They’ve reversed a pesky 2021 ruling that had the audacity to suggest the school and diocese violated a teacher’s civil rights when they fired him for the “offense” of planning to marry his same-sex partner. Yes, you read that right—the court decided that dismissing a gay teacher for wanting to tie the knot doesn’t actually trample on his civil rights.

The teacher, Lonnie Billard, taught drama and English at the school for over a decade before his contract was not renewed in 2014. The dismissal came after Billard announced his intention on social media to marry his same-sex partner following the legalization of gay marriage in North Carolina.

The court’s recent ruling stated that the school contended it terminated Billard not because of his sexual orientation but because his advocacy for same-sex marriage conflicted with the church’s teachings on marriage.

The court cited the “ministerial exception,” which grants religious institutions more freedom in employment decisions regarding individuals performing tasks central to their religious mission.

In writing the opinion, Judge Pamela Harris emphasized that despite being secular, Billard’s role was crucial in upholding the school’s Catholic beliefs in his teaching of English and drama. Although the decision was unanimous, Judge Robert King, appointed by Clinton, concurred with the school’s right to dismiss Billard but argued it fell under a different exception.

The school’s policy mandates adherence to Catholic principles, even for non-Catholic employees, and prohibits advocacy against church doctrines. Thus, the court deemed Billard’s advocacy for same-sex marriage as conflicting with the school’s ethos.

The ruling has sparked controversy, with critics expressing disappointment and confusion over the decision. Billard, in response, highlighted the importance of love and criticized the idea of terminating someone based on their love life.

Proponents of religious freedom have lauded the court’s decision, emphasizing Catholic schools’ right to uphold their teachings through their hiring practices.