Appeals court upholds Catholic school’s right to dismiss teacher over same-sex engagement

A North Carolina Catholic high school did not unlawfully discriminate when it terminated a substitute teacher who announced his same-sex engagement, The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled when it…

A North Carolina Catholic high school did not unlawfully discriminate when it terminated a substitute teacher who announced his same-sex engagement, The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled when it dismissed his lawsuit against the school.

In 2017, Lonnie Billard filed a lawsuit against Charlotte Catholic High School following the termination of his employment in 2014. The school ended his role after he publicly announced his engagement to another man and his plans to enter into a civil marriage.

Same-sex marriage is a violation of the school’s moral code, according to the National Catholic Register. However, Billard argued his dismissal constituted unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex. 

In 2021, a federal court ruled in favor of Billard, but Wednesday this decision was overturned by an appeals court, which determined the school was protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom. 

“Faith infused [the school’s] classes – and not only the expressly religious ones,” the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in its decision. “Even as a teacher of English and drama, Billard’s duties included conforming his instruction to Christian thought and providing a classroom environment consistent with Catholicism.”  

“Billard may have been teaching ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ but he was doing so after consultation with religious teachers to ensure that he was teaching through a faith-based lens.” 

Luke Goodrich, an attorney representing the school, stated that the ruling aligns with a series of Supreme Court decisions. 

“Bottom line: religious groups have the freedom to choose who carries out their religious mission,” Goodrich posted on X. “This ruling is a win for people of all faiths who cherish the freedom to pass on their faith to the next generation.” 

In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with two Catholic schools in an anti-discrimination lawsuit, following the dismissal of teachers due to their same-sex marriages. 

The justices ruled that religious schools are entitled to a “ministerial exception,” which means religious organizations must maintain the authority to hire and dismiss teachers without court interference, as reported by Fox 59.