Catholic school claims ‘ministerial exemption’ in lawsuit over firing of gay guidance counselor

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Lawyers for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis told the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday that the job of a guidance counselor falls within the ‘ministerial exemption’ allowing religious employers to demand compliance with the doctrine of a church in their private lives.

Luke Goodrich, an attorney representing the Archdiocese and Roncalli High School, said in a virtual press conference, “There are several cases before the Supreme Court that defend the freedom of religious schools and underscore the importance for religious schools to be able to choose their leaders, their teachers, and those who communicate the Catholic faith to this next generation.

The law firm representing the archdiocese and the school said in a press release, “Teachers, administrators and guidance counselors at Roncalli sign contracts agreeing to support the school’s religious mission and uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church in their personal and professional lives”.

The appeal was brought by Lynn Starkey, an employee at Roncalli for 40 years, including 21 years as a guidance counselor. When she informed the school in 2019 that she had entered into a same-sex union, the school refused to renew her contract.

Prior to her role in the guidance service, Ms Starkey had taught religion classes and led the school choir, which prepared music for mass.

She was also on the school’s board of trustees, which Becked says helped “guide the school’s religious mission.”


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Mr Goodrich said Ms Starkey ‘was also the co-director of guidance’ at Roncalli, ‘which meant…supervising the other guidance counsellors’.

He said two Supreme Court decisions – Hosanna-Tabor v. 2012 EEOC and Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru of 2020 – support the Archdiocese’s defense of using ‘ministerial exemption’ to refuse to renew Ms Starkey’s contract.

He said that Ms. Starkey’s other claim, that anti-discrimination regulations in a federal law known as Title VII prohibiting discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation, do not apply since this law also contains a religious exemption.

“The judges also showed great interest in this argument today,” Mr. Goodrich told reporters. “One of the judges said that seemed like a very simple reading of the law and that should prevail,” he added.

Mr. Goodrich said he “expects[s] the courts to achieve what is really a common-sense result that the Catholic Church can, in fact, ask educators in Catholic schools to defend Catholic teaching.

A spokesperson for attorney Kathleen DeLaney, who represented Ms Starkey in her appeal, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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