Diocese appeals against discrimination in dismissal of gay teacher


Catholic leaders in Charlotte have appealed a federal judge’s decision that they unconstitutionally fired a gay substitute teacher after he posted his same-sex wedding plans on Facebook.

The Diocese of Charlotte has hired one of the country’s leading religious freedom law firms to try the case in the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

The name of the company Beckett Firm has not yet been found in any documents in the Charlotte case. But Beckett – Motto: “Religious freedom for all” – added Lonnie Billard against the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte to her online portfolio, which already includes a benchmark Hobby Lobbying decree and the present case before the Supreme Court involving Fr. high school football coach who was fired in Colorado for leading prayers in midfield after the games.

Luke Goodrich, one of Beckett’s vice presidents and senior advisers, confirmed to The Charlotte Observer on Monday that he would serve as attorney general for the diocese, Charlotte Catholic High School and Mecklenburg Catholic Schools if Billard’s case is referred to the Court of Appeals. in Richmond. A preliminary notice of appeal was filed last week by the defendants’ previous lawyers.

In a telephone interview, Goodrich said that Catholic Charlotte, like all religious schools, has “a mission to pass on the faith to future generations.” To do this, according to Gudrych, “It is important that all teachers support this mission.”

In the case of Charlotte Catholic, he said, this includes teachers ’support for the Catholic doctrine that marriage is reserved for men and women.

Charlotte’s lawyer Luke Lages told the Observer on Monday that Billard’s legal team was disappointed that the diocese had filed an appeal, “but expected them to do so.”

In written and oral disputes, Larges and other Billard attorneys said their client is not a minister and has no responsibilities for teaching religion. Thus, they said, he was protected by federal law from sexual discrimination at work.

Billard, the former “Teacher of the Year” at Charlotte Catholic, retired and became a backup teacher when he announced on Facebook in October 2014 that he planned to marry his longtime male partner. The message came two weeks after a ban on same-sex marriage in North Carolina was lifted by Charlotte federal court.

At Christmas that year, Billard said he learned he had lost his job. An assistant Catholic high school assistant later told him that the diocese had ordered his “termination” because of his Facebook post. He sued in 2017.

Billard and his husband Rich Donham are still married.

The case dragged on for years as the higher courts heard other disputes religious freedom against other constitutional defenses.

In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled its own symbolic solution in the Bostak case, according to which LGBTQ employees were protected from sexual discrimination Section VII of the Civil Rights Act.

“The answer is clear,” conservative judge Neil Gorsach wrote for the majority in decision 6-3. “An employer who fires a person for homosexuality or transgenderism fires that person for traits or actions that he would not question the opposite sex.”

However, Gorsuch and the High Court left room for religious objectionsConsidering that the new protection in Section VII for LGBTQ staff may be waived in cases where – unlike Bostak – the conduct in question was religiously motivated.

Last September U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn relied heavily on Bostak’s opinion when deciding that Charlotte’s diocese’s decision to sever ties with Billard was a secular employment issue, not a religious one. Thus, the diocese’s treatment of Billard was classified as sexual discrimination under Section VII.

Cogburn, who eight years ago lifted a ban on same-sex weddings in North Carolina, acknowledged that Billard’s decision to marry his partner was contrary to Catholic teaching.

However, Billard “is a lay worker who comes to the campus of a religious school with the limited purpose of teaching secular classes without a mandate to inculcate students in Catholic teaching,” the judge wrote.

“Indeed, the accused do not require (Billiards) to be a Catholic, and they even explicitly urge him and other teachers of non-religious subjects to refrain from teaching religious topics in their classrooms.”

In a statement issued after the decision, Billard said he would like to be allowed to stay at Charlotte Catholic, where he began teaching in 2001.

“Today’s decision confirms that I did nothing wrong as gay,” he said.

In a statement predicting its final appeal, the diocese said that the First Amendment, federal law and recent Supreme Court decisions “all recognize the right of religious organizations to make employment decisions based on religious preservation and preference.

“They do not force – and should not – force religious schools to hire teachers who publicly contradict their teachings.”

In discussing the diocesan appeal, which was not filed, Goodett of Beckett’s firm argued that there were “numerous safeguards” in federal law and legal precedent that recognized a religious organization’s right to choose employees who adhered to its religious practices and beliefs. ”

In a court statement, the diocese said it would appeal to the Supreme Court if necessary. Goodrich said the case has a chance to get there.

But he said he hoped the fourth county, which considers appeals from Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland, recognizes “the importance of religious organizations upholding and teaching their religious views … and hiring people accordingly.”

Michael Gordon has been the author of legal issues at the Observer since 2013. He has been the newspaper’s editor and reporter since 1992, occasionally writing about schools, religion, politics and sports. He spent two summers as “Bikini Mike,” telling stories while pedaling on Carolina.

Diocese appeals against discrimination in dismissal of gay teacher

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