Attorneys for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis told the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Monday that a guidance counselor’s job fits the “ministerial exemption” allowing religious employers to demand conformity with a church’s doctrine in their private life.
Luke Goodrich, an attorney representing the archdiocese and Roncalli High School, told a virtual news conference, “There are multiple Supreme Court cases that uphold the freedom of religious schools and highlight the importance of religious schools being able to choose their leaders, their teachers, and those who communicate the Catholic faith to that next generation.”
The law firm representing the archdiocese and the school said in a press release: “Schoolteachers, administrators, and guidance counselors at Roncalli sign contracts agreeing to support the school’s religious mission and uphold the Catholic Church’s teachings in their personal and professional lives.”
The appeal was brought by Lynn Starkey, employed at Roncalli for 40 years, including 21 years as a guidance counselor. When she informed the school in 2019 that she had entered a same-sex union, the school refused to renew her contract.
Before her role in the guidance department, Ms. Starkey had taught religion classes and led the school’s choir, which prepared music for Mass.
She also was on the school’s Administrative Counsel, which Becked said helped to “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 counselors.”
He said two Supreme Court decisions — 2012’s Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC and 2020’s Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru — support the archdiocese’s defense of using the “ministerial exemption” in refusing to renew Ms. Starkey‘s contract.
He said Ms. Starkey’s other claim, that anti-discrimination regulations in a federal law known as Title VII barring discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation, do not apply since that law also contains a religious exemption.
“The judges also showed a lot of interest in that argument today,” Mr. Goodrich told reporters. “One of the judges said it seemed like a very plain reading of the statute, and that that should prevail,” he added.
Mr. Goodrich said he “expect[s] the courts to reach what is really a common-sense result that the Catholic Church can, in fact, ask educators in Catholic schools to uphold Catholic teaching.”
A spokesman for attorney Kathleen DeLaney, who represented Ms. Starkey in her appeal, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.