Joshua Payne-Elliott (right) and his husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, were both employed as Catholic school teachers before Joshua was fired. (Delaney and Delaney)
In a “highly unusual” move, the US Department of Justice has filed a statement of interest letter siding with an archbishop’s decision to fire a gay teacher from a Catholic school.
Joshua Payne-Elliott was fired from his job teaching at Cathedral High School because he is in a same-sex marriage. He subsequently sued the Indianapolis Archdioscese for illegally interfering with his employment contract, leading to his dismissal.
On Friday, September 27, the Trump-led Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in court arguing that the First Amendment bars courts from interfering in how a religious group applies its teachings.
Kathleen DeLaney, Payne-Elliott’s attorney, told Huffpost it was “highly unusual” for the Justice Department to get involved in the early stages of a single plaintiff case pending in state court with claims arising only under state law.
It is not immediately clear how binding the DOJ’s statement is, or what impact it will have on Payne-Elliott’s suit.
Vanita Gupta, CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that the department only files statements of interest “when it wants to make a point.”
DOJ files statements of interest when it wants to make a point – not because it has to. That’s what Trump admin did here. It is once again using religion as a shield against core anti-discrimination principles that protect LGBTQ people. Can’t imagine career lawyers are happy. https://t.co/9i0npK0l3s
— Vanita Gupta (@vanitaguptaCR) September 27, 2019
According to Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the DOJ is using statements of interest in cases like these to “aggressively promote an anti-civil rights agenda.”
These are cases in which the United States is not a party. The DOJ is using Statements of Interest to aggressively promote an anti-civil rights agenda. It’s shameful.
— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) September 27, 2019
While the Supreme Court has previously ruled that religious organisations can decide on their membership, this latest move from the government infers that it is acceptable for any religious-owned organisation to fire a LGBT+ person because of their sexuality, even if that organisation replies on taxpayer funds to operate.