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5/15/2024 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) — The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in favor of a Catholic school in North Carolina that fired a teacher in a same-sex relationship.

This overturned a trial court ruling that originally said Charlotte Catholic High School was not justified in firing teacher Lonnie Billard for marrying a man, despite the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality.

Judge Pamela Harris wrote in the majority opinion that, “the school entrusted Billard with ‘vital religious duties,’ making him a ‘messenger’ of its faith and placing him within the ministerial exception.”

The “ministerial exception,” in U.S. constitutional law, is a legal exception that allows religious organizations to discriminate when it comes to hiring and keeping employees who serve in a “ministerial’ role, i.e. those that instruct on doctrine and perform religious duties.

“The Supreme Court has been crystal clear on this issue: Catholic schools have the freedom to choose teachers who fully support Catholic teaching,” said Luke Goodrich, senior counsel at Becket, the firm representing the North Carolina dioceses. “This is a victory for people of all faiths who cherish the freedom to pass on their faith to the next generation.”

This case is the latest in a series of legal victories for religious freedom and free speech in the U.S. in the past several years. While controversy over gender and sexual identity continue to be hotly contested in Western countries, especially concerning government employees, several key decisions at U.S. state and federal supreme courts have marked a growing trend of protecting the conscience of religious Americans.