Catholic school can get state money despite firing

INDIANAPOLIS — A Catholic high school in Indianapolis can legally suspend a counselor for her same-sex marriage, despite the school receiving $6.5 million in public money over the last five years, according to an expert on LGBTQ legal issues.

Roncalli High School has been criticized after announcing Sunday that Shelly Fitzgerald had been placed on administrative leave after administrators discovered she’s married to a woman. Fitzgerald worked at the school for 15 years and has been with her partner for 22 years.

Indiana University law professor Steve Sanders specializes in constitutional law and LGBTQ issues. He told the Indianapolis Star that Roncalli can legally receive public money through Indiana’s school voucher program while still being considered a religious institution regarding employment decisions.

“The state could say that in order to get voucher money, (schools) must agree to non-discrimination policies,” Sanders said. “It hasn’t done so in this case.”

Indiana also doesn’t have a statewide anti-discrimination law. Indianapolis has a human rights ordinance that offers such protections, but it includes a blanket exemption for any church-affiliated school.

The state’s Choice Scholarship program awards scholarships to Indiana residents to attend the participating private school of their choice. Roncalli’s participation in the program grew from 22 students receiving vouchers in 2011 to 350 last year. The school has been one of he top recipients of voucher money during the last three years, according to the newspaper.

The school responded to the mounting criticism with a Facebook post saying in part that its contract requires teachers to uphold the teachings of the Catholic church, including marriage “between a man and a woman.”

Fitzgerald has hired an attorney but not filed a lawsuit as of Tuesday. She said she fears for her students who may also be in the LGBTQ community and are watching the school administration’s decisions.

“I think that one of the things that I struggle with in all of this is: Who’s going to take care of them? Who’s going to tell them that things are going to be OK?” she said. “Because they’re going to be OK.”

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