By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
January 13, 2017
CHARLOTTE – Charlotte Catholic High School is being sued after firing a substitute teacher who announced his impending same-sex marriage on social media.
A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union claims that Lonnie Billard is the victim of workplace sex discrimination based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
A full-time Charlotte Catholic teacher from 2001 to 2012, Billard sought work there as a substitute after retiring. But when school officials learned of his marriage announcement, they informed him that he had violated the morality clause in the diocese’s personnel policy and would no longer be employed.
“We cannot and will not employ a substitute teacher who opposes Church teaching,” Diocese of Charlotte spokesman David Hains told the media.
Billard admitted to The Charlotte Observer that he knew his employer wouldn’t be “delighted” to learn of his wedding plans, which he posted in October 2014, but said he didn’t see how that affected his job.
“I wasn’t working for a church,” Billard told the newspaper after being fired in December of that year. “In my mind, I was working for a school.”
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of The Christian Action League of North Carolina, said religious schools, just like churches, must continue to stand up for freedom of religion, which includes the freedom to hire only likeminded employees.
The Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes Catholic education, called the school’s decision to fire Billard the latest in a number of instances of “Catholic schools around the country taking measures to protect and ensure their Catholic identity.”
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which ruled that Billard has the right to sue, confirms that religious organizations can give employment preference to members of the faith but says they can’t otherwise discriminate.
“There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win….” Chai Feldblum, the commissioner of the EEOC, has said.
The EEOC, like other agencies of the Obama administration, has reinterpreted the word “sex” in Title VII to extend extra protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the workplace.
It’s this new interpretation that emboldened Charlotte leaders to pass an ordinance last year allowing transgender people to use the restroom of their choice — an ordinance that prompted the North Carolina Legislature to respond with House Bill 2, which excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide anti-discrimination protections and clarifies that people should use restrooms matching their biological sex.
“Even though this lawsuit does not involve state law, it is one more illustration of the trend that has taken hold since the U.S. Supreme Court’s erroneous ruling for gay marriage in 2015,” said the Rev. Creech. “It’s cases like this that make it even more important for legislators not to back down on HB2.”
The case filed this week not only asks that Lonnie Billard be rehired and given back pay and benefits, it also seeks punitive damage, compensatory damages for emotional distress and a court order blocking the school from firing others who oppose the Church’s teaching on marriage.