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Former Charlotte Catholic High School teacher Lonnie Billard

(LifeSiteNews) — A Catholic high school in North Carolina did not violate federal law when it opted to not re-hire a “married” homosexual substitute teacher in 2014, a federal appeals court determined earlier this month, reversing a previous ruling.

Lonnie Billard taught theatre and English at Charlotte Catholic High School full time for more than a decade until 2012. After announcing on social media in 2014 that he was engaged to his longtime boyfriend after gay “marriage” became legal in North Carolina, his part-time contract was not renewed.

“If you’re gonna teach at a Catholic school and pass on the Catholic faith to the next generation, you need to be supportive of Catholic Church teachings,” Luke Goodrich, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty who represented the diocese, has said.

In 2017, Billard sued the school seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages with help from the ultra-liberal American Civil Liberties Union. They claimed that the school’s decision was illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Four years later, a district court judge ruled in Billard’s favor, arguing that he was hired to run “secular classes, with no mandate to inculcate students with Catholic teachings.”

Last Wednesday’s decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia reversed that finding.

“We conclude that the school entrusted Billard with ‘vital religious duties,’ making him a ‘messenger’ of its faith and placing him within the ministerial exception,” Judge Pamela Harris said in the Court’s decision.

Goodrich praised the ruling as a victory for “people of all faiths” but especially Catholics.

“The Supreme Court has been crystal clear on this issue: Catholic schools have the freedom to choose teachers who fully support Catholic teaching,” he said.

The Diocese of Charlotte is currently without an ordinary bishop. It was previously led by Bishop Emeritus Peter Jugis. Twenty schools currently operate in the diocese, which falls under the larger Archdiocese of Atlanta in the neighboring state of Georgia.

Billard has 14 days to ask the 4th Circuit to rehear his case or 90 days to appeal to the Supreme Court.