Federal Appeals Court Upholds Catholic School’s Freedom to Hire Teachers Faithful to Catholicism

By Nancy Flory Published on May 10, 2024

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court ruled that a Catholic school is free to hire only teachers who remain faithful to Catholic teaching.

A former substitute teacher sued North Carolina’s Charlotte Catholic High School and the local diocese in Billard v. Diocese of CharlotteLonnie Billard taught English and drama at the school from 2001 to 2012.

In 2002, Billard divorced his wife and moved in with his male romantic partner. He retired from the school in 2012, but stayed on as a substitute teacher. In 2014, Billard entered a same-sex union, and posted it on Facebook.

Billard previously signed a contract agreeing to uphold Catholic teaching, which doesn’t recognize or allow homosexual relationships. Many of his coworkers and their families saw the Facebook post. 

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When Billard realized the diocese would not rehire him to teach at the school, he sued both entities for $100,000 and brought in the American Civil Liberties Union, which planned to sue for hundreds of thousands more in attorneys’ fees.

Passing Down the Faith

For more than 50 years, the Diocese of Charlotte has operated Catholic schools in the area. It requires teachers to sign an agreement saying they will uphold Catholic teachings in the classroom as part of their mission to pass the faith down to younger generations.

“Many of our parents work long hours and make significant sacrifices so their children can attend our schools and receive a faithful Catholic education,” said Assistant Superintendent Allana Ramkissoon. “That’s because we inspire our students not only to harness the lessons and tools they need to thrive, but to cherish their faith as a precious gift from God.”

A Clear Victory

Wednesday’s ruling serves as a clear victory for parochial schools. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stated that the First Amendment does not allow civil courts to adjudicate employment disputes involving ministers. According to Becket Law, which defended the diocese, “The court found that Billard was a minister because Charlotte Catholic required all its teachers to ‘model and promote Catholic faith and morals.’ Billard, therefore, played a ‘vital role’ in advancing the school’s religious mission.”

The court explained its ruling: “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.” Based on this finding, the case could not proceed.

“The Supreme Court has been crystal clear on this issue: Catholic schools have the freedom to choose teachers who fully support Catholic teaching,” Becket Vice President and Senior Counsel Luke Goodrich said in a statement. “This is a victory for people of all faiths who cherish the freedom to pass on their faith to the next generation.”

 

Nancy Flory, Ph.D., is a senior editor at The Stream. You can follow her @NancyFlory3, and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.

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