Catholic School Hit With Barrage of Legal Complaints After Firing Lesbian Counselors

Facebook screenshot of Roncalli High School football field.

A Roman Catholic high school in Indianapolis, Ind. faces three legal complaints — two lawsuits and one discrimination complaint — after firing two lesbian guidance counselors and a third counselor who condemned the other firings on Facebook. The Catholic Church defines marriage as between one man and one woman and holds that any sexual behavior outside of marriage is sinful. A Catholic school should be able to hold employees to this standard, but activists argue that firing openly homosexual employees is illegal discrimination.

Last August, Roncalli High School fired former guidance counselor Shelly Fitzgerald after the archbishop reviewed her same-sex marriage license. She had been working at the school for 15 years. Fitzgerald filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month. Lynn Starkey, also in a same-sex marriage, was fired in May after working at the school for 39 years. She filed a lawsuit alleging the school was hostile toward homosexual students, faculty, and staff.

Most recently, Kelley Fisher, a social worker with Catholic Charities, who worked at Roncalli for 15 years, condemned the firings of Fitzgerald and Starkey on Facebook. The school fired her this past spring. She filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claiming that the school and Archdiocese of Indianapolis retaliated against her for publicly supporting her former coworkers.

“Catholic schools exist to communicate the Catholic faith to the next generation,” the archdiocese said in a statement last Thursday. “To accomplish their mission, Catholic schools ask all teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors to uphold the Catholic faith by word and action, both inside and outside the classroom.”

While Fisher is not herself lesbian or in a same-sex marriage, her public statements opposed the Catholic Church’s position on marriage and sexuality. She posted her support for Fitzgerald and Starkey on Facebook and advocated for a change in the language of employment contracts, which the archdiocese claims prohibits the employment of people who violate church teachings. Fisher had the audacity to publicly post a letter she had sent to leadership within the archdiocese and Roncalli, requesting the contract alteration.

According to Fisher, her bosses at Catholic charities called her into a meeting with Roncalli Principal Chuck Weisenbach. The principal asked her if she could adhere to Catholic teachings on marriage and sexuality. Fischer responded that “she’d spoken to students on both sides of the archdiocese’s position on employees in same-sex marriages, which had divided both Roncalli and broader Catholic community,” The Indianapolis Star reported.

“Our job is, as a counselor or social worker, that we don’t bring our values or judgment into a session,” Fisher told The Indianapolis Star. “And I feel very strongly about that.”

As for the public statements, she said she felt compelled to speak out.

“As an advocate for social justice and against discrimination, I really felt, you know, propelled to make that public statement,” Fisher said. “If you publicly support, you know, (being) against discrimination… you too, can be a victim of losing your job.”

Beneath Fisher’s spin, it seems clear the diocese, Catholic Charities, and Roncalli got the clear message that this social worker was not willing to follow Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality. Given her outspoken statements against the school and her unwillingness to defend Catholic doctrine, it seems quite natural for Catholic Charities to fire her and for Roncalli to distance itself from her.

Americans should be able to speak out on controversial issues without losing their jobs. But an employee who publicly criticizes the actions of her employer and who refuses to uphold the moral commitments of the religious group she works for should not expect to keep her job.

Furthermore, Fisher’s demand that the school change the language in its contract is telling. She seems to have acknowledged that same-sex marriage is incompatible with the contract that Fitzgerald and Starkey signed.

These former staffers are using the legal argument of discrimination to prevent a Catholic institution from hiring only people who agree with and live by Catholic doctrine on sexuality. This is yet one more example of LGBT activists fighting against religious freedom and free association rights of religious organizations to hold staff to their own standards.

This strategy has backfired in the past. The University of Iowa deregistered student groups that sought to restrict their leadership to people who follow the moral standards of the organizations. A judge not only found the university’s policy a violation of the First Amendment rights of the Christian group InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, but she also held university officials personally liable, requiring that they pay damages to the student group from their own pockets.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis defended its employment decisions by noting that the Supreme Court “has repeatedly recognized that religious schools have a constitutional right to hire leaders who support the schools’ religious mission.” The Court has indeed recognized a “ministerial exemption” from anti-discrimination laws. LGBT activists argue that the exemption should be extremely limited, but requiring Catholic schools to hire openly LGBT staff arguably undercuts the schools’ ability to uphold Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality.

LGBT counselors should not seek employment at Catholic schools in the first place. There is a fundamental mismatch between LGBT “pride” and Catholic teaching, and both sides should respect the other enough to acknowledge it. Yet it seems LGBT activists are bent on forcing Christian institutions to celebrate LGBT “pride.” Indeed, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) has openly advocated for removing tax-exempt status from religious churches and charities that oppose same-sex marriage. For many activists, religious freedom and free association are no defense — people must be made to agree, and celebrate, views they disagree with.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.