Court rules in favor of Catholic school that fired gay drama teacher after he posted about his marriage

A Catholic school won in court after it was sued by a gay drama teacher who was fired when he posted about his marriage on social media.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, reversed a previous ruling in 2021 that said the Charlotte Catholic High School in North Carolina had discriminated against Lonnie Billard.

Billard had worked full-time as a drama teacher and went on to teach as a substitute teacher in English when he announced on Facebook that he was going to get married after North Carolina legalized gay marriage in 2014.

“Apparently, there were a couple of teachers that were unhappy with that,” said Billard in an interview with WCNC-TV from 2015.

“If I were in the closet, that would be OK.”

Billard claimed that most people at the school knew he was gay and that his male partner would often attend school events with him.

“Well the Catholic Church opposes same-sex unions,” explained David Hains, a spokesperson for the Charlotte Roman Catholic Diocese, in 2015. “Marriage can only be between one man and one woman. He’s not being picked on because he’s gay. He lost his job as a substitute teacher because he broke a promise. Because he chose to oppose church teaching, something he promised he would not do.”

Billard had worked at the school for 15 years and had been awarded teacher of the year one year.

“The fact that I am in a long-term committed relationship with a wonderful man is apparently abhorrent, but if I were in the closet, that would be OK. That’s my understanding of the church’s position,” said Billard.

The church argued that Billard had not been technically fired because he was working as a substitute teacher.

Circuit Judge Pamela Harris agreed with the church and ruled that the decision fell under a “ministerial exception” to the Civil Rights Act.

“Our court has recognized before that seemingly secular tasks like the teaching of English and drama may be so imbued with religious significance that they implicate the ministerial exception,” Harris wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union decried the ruling and said that the court had widened a loophole to allow organizations to discriminate against gay people.

Supporters of the church and the school said the ruling was a victory for religious rights.

Here’s more about the decision:

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