Roncalli High School and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis discriminated against Shelly Fitzgerald because she exercised her constitutional right to marry. The high school fired Shelly because she was married to another woman, and Shelly sued. On July 13, a three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that the “ministerial exception” prevented Shelly from vindicating her rights to be free from discrimination. This court-created doctrine circumvents civil rights laws by allowing religious employers to discriminate against employees who perform important religious duties.
Rachel Laser, President and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which is part of Shelly Fitzgerald’s legal team, issued the following statement:
“Religious extremists are waging a crusade to undermine basic civil rights and won a disturbing victory before the Supreme Court in the 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis case just two weeks ago. Shelly Fitzgerald’s case was another line of attack. These religious extremists are trying to expand a narrow, commonsense rule – meant to allow houses of worship to select their own clergy according to their own faith – into a broad license to circumvent civil rights laws and to discriminate.
“Shelly Fitzgerald wasn’t hired to minister to students”
“Shelly Fitzgerald, like most employees at religious organizations, wasn’t hired to minister to students or to preach the Catholic religion. She was hired to provide secular guidance to students seeking to get into college. She should not have lost her civil rights simply because the secular work she performed was done at a religious school.
“I also want to commend our plaintiff, Shelly Fitzgerald, for courageously speaking up on behalf of all people vulnerable to discrimination in the name of religion. Shelly and brave people like her are on the front lines warning the American people about the very real threats we face from a shadowy network of religious extremists working to turn religious freedom from a shield into a sword to harm others and violate their rights.”
Americans United Litigation Fellow Gabriela Hybel argued Shelly’s case before the Seventh Circuit. Shelly is represented by AU Litigation Counsel Bradley Girard; Hybel; Mark Sniderman of Findling, Park, Conyers, Woody & Sniderman, P.C.; and David Page of Henn Haworth Cummings & Page.
More information about the case is available here.
Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
Associate Vice President of Communications