New Court Cases May Prevent Churches From Bullying By LGBT Activists

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Thursday, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Catholic high school had the right to fire a guidance counselor because she’d entered into a parody of Christian marriage with another woman.


Michelle Fitzgerald, a 14-year employee of Roncalli High School, a Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, was fired after school officials were informed she had engaged in a “same sex” marriage. The school also refused to renew the contract of Lynn Starkey, who, like Fitzgerald, was a “co-director” of Roncalli’s guidance program who “married” another woman. Starkey’s case was dismissed last year.

Both Fitzgerald and Starkey sued, claiming their dismissals violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A three-judge panel composed of one Reagan appointee (Joel Flaum) and two Trump appointees (Michael B. Brennan and Amy St. Eve) agreed that Fitzgerald and Starkey had been defenestrated from their Sapphic tower because of their homosexual “weddings,” but that didn’t matter.

Michelle Fitzgerald worked for Roncalli High School—a Catholic high school run by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis—for fourteen years. After providing Fitzgerald years of exceptional performance reviews, the school declined to renew her one-year employment contract because it contended her same-sex marriage was contrary to the school’s religious mission. Fitzgerald sued the school and Archdiocese for sex discrimination, and the defendants raised the ministerial exception as a defense. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on this ground, and Fitzgerald appealed. We affirm.


These cases represent the leading edge of a series of cases heading toward the Supreme Court that promises to ensure that religious institutions have the absolute right to only employ people who adhere to their religion and model their values.

In the case of Fitzgerald and Starkey, not only did their employment contracts require staff to “uphold the Catholic Church’s beliefs in their personal and professional lives,” both individuals were directly involved in decisions about religious studies. However, they later claimed they only got involved in that because it offered a way to a pay increase. Because of their positions and because they involved themselves in religious education, their employer had a slam-dunk case under the Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru (Supreme Court Tells Ninth Circuit to Stay Out of Personnel Decisions of Religious Organizations) and Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Evangelical School v. EEOC  Supreme Court decisions.

A new phase of the battle is developing in a case headed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

When Lonnie Billard announced on Facebook in October 2014 that he was engaged to his partner of 14 years, he knew not everyone in his social circles would celebrate the news. Same-sex marriage had only been legal in his home state of North Carolina for two weeks.

“If you don’t agree with this,” he wrote, “keep it to yourself.”

He received only congratulations in reply. But two months later, while the substitute teacher and his fiancé were celebrating Christmas with one of his colleagues at Charlotte Catholic High School, Billard mentioned that he hadn’t heard from the school about filling in during her post-holiday vacation.

That’s when Billard learned he was no longer being employed by the Catholic school because he was marrying a man. Billard sued the school for sex discrimination and won in 2021. That decision is being challenged by a nonprofit firm involved in multiple high-profile fights on behalf of religious conservatives, which says last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of a web designer who did not want to work for gay couples bolsters its case.


The case they are referring to is 303 Creative vs. Elenis, and this is RedState’s coverage of the case: Supreme Court Rules Christian Web Design Company Does Not Have to Promote Gay WeddingsThe Supreme Court Issues Another Ruling in Favor of LibertySay What? Sonia Sotomayor Is Compared to Mazie Hirono After Astonishing Claims in AA, 303 Case DissentsWith 303 Decision, Supreme Court Is the Skunk at the Pride ParadeGorsuch Savages Sotomayor’s Brain-Melting Dissent in the 303 Creative Case, and The Left’s Go-to Law-Guy Laurence Tribe Gets a Lot Wrong in ‘303 Creative’ Free Speech Case.

Where the Fitzgerald and Starkey cases involve school administrators in decision-making roles who had acted in violation of their employment contracts, the Billard case is a bit different. Billard was a substitute teacher who had no role in the religious formation of the students. The school even has a policy that requires those “who teach secular subjects refrain from instructing students on Catholic Doctrine.”

Like Roncalli High School, Charlotte Catholic High School requires staff to live their public and private lives in accordance with Catholic teaching. When Billard went to training about expectations of staff conduct, he acted like a lot of stereotypes.

Plaintiff signed the Charlotte Catholic employment contract each year when he was teaching full-time, and received the Faculty handbook, Personnel Policies handbook, and Code of Ethics.He also attended Father Arnsparger’s training sessions, but walked out on two occasions because he disagreed with their tone.


He claims the school never had any problems with his homosexual relationship because he brought his “partner” to school functions, and his “partner” answered the phone at their residence. The court went along with the underlying assumption that anytime two men share living arrangements or go to an event together, that is tantamount to an admission that they are in a homosexual relationship. Sadly, that says more about our culture and the judge’s acceptance of immorality than it is a defense of Billard’s deception.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is handling the appeal and drafting off the 303 Creative case; they are pushing a defense based on “expressive association.”

The right to expressive association refers to the right of people to associate together for expressive purposes – often for political purposes. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized this right in NAACP v. Alabama (1958), reasoning that individual members of the civil rights group had a right to associate together free from undue state interference. 

In that case, the state of Alabama sought to require the NAACP to disclose its membership list. In his majority opinion, Justice John Marshall Harlan II wrote: “It is beyond debate that freedom to engage in association for the advancement of beliefs and ideas is an inseparable aspect of the ‘liberty’ assured by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which embraces freedom of speech.” 


“Expressive association” was the reason the Boy Scouts of America were able to prevent homosexual scoutmasters in Boy Scouts of America vs. Dale. (It feels sort of quaint writing that, given the present state of scouting.)

I think that the Billard decision is bizarre. Can a Jewish organization be required to admit neo-Nazis or even gay neo-Nazis? The answer should be obvious. Likewise, should a Catholic school not only be forced to employ people who are openly and notoriously living lives opposed to Catholic moral teaching and the staff conduct handbook? (By the way, this is not purely a homosexual issue. The tolerance of couples living together out of wedlock working for Catholic parishes, schools, and organizations is a much greater problem.) Can a Catholic school be forced to act in a way that its own rules condemn?

In Catholicism, there is the sin of scandal. It is defined in the Catechism this way.

Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.

When a person in power sins openly, here think Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi receiving the Eucharist leads others to believe that behavior is proper. A Catholic school can’t teach the true nature of marriage and homosexuality while employing someone violating the rules on both because it shows that the school is okay with that behavior and could lead others to think they can do the same.


Overall, I think Becket Fund has a great chance of prevailing. In 303 Creative, Gorsuch referred to the Dale decision. By forcing a church to hire people living lives opposed to its beliefs, it is literally forced to endorse an opposing view. It doesn’t take a genius to see the next step where a homosexual employee sues and wins a “hostile work environment” case because his employer has called his behavior sinful.

There is a deeper problem here than just an attack on arguably the most visible Christian denomination. One has the right to ask why people seek employment with an organization when they know their personal lives and values contradict their potential employer. Why would they willingly sign a code of conduct pledge that forbade them to engage in specific behavior and then turn around and do it?

This is a warning to all employers who invoke their religious faith as a part of their reason for being. If you hire people living contrary to your beliefs, you are not achieving diversity and inclusion; you are a moron. If you keep them on the payroll after they show their colors, in these cases, that would be a rainbow; you deserve what happens to you.


Fitzgerald vs. Roncalli Opinion

Fitzgerald vs Roncalli High School by streiff on Scribd

Billard vs. Charlotte Catholic High School

Billard vs. Charlotte Catholic High School by streiff at redstate on Scribd


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