Last month, Colin Collette filed a discrimination complaint which alleged that Holy Family Parish Church, in Inverness, Illinois, fired him from his job as choir director because of his sexual orientation. Collette claims that shortly after he expressed his intention to marry a man, which is legal in Illinois, the church fired him because his marriage would be “non-sacramental.”
The events leading to his termination apparently began when Mr. Collette posted on Facebook that he planned to marry his longtime lover because same-sex marriage had become legal in Illinois. According to Mr. Collette, shortly after he posted this information on Facebook, Cardinal Francis George allegedly instructed parish leaders to “deal with this.” And Mr. Collette claims that they did that by firing him.
“It saddens me to have this integral part of my life taken away because I have chosen to enter into a marriage, as is my right under Illinois law,” Mr. Collette said.
Mr. Collette’s termination appears to have come on the heels of Pope Francis’s reported desire to alter the Catholic Church’s treatment of gay people.
This case is interesting because it will test the boundaries of the church’s freedom of religion and the former choir director’s right to be free from sexual orientation discrimination. Illinois, like Maine, has a law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation. However, under the Maine Human Rights Act, “a religious organization may require that all applicants and employees conform to the religious tenets of that organization” unless the employer is a “religious corporation, association, educational institution or society that receives public funds or is a for-profit organization owned, controlled, or operated by a religious association or corporation and subject to the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. §511(a).” Thus, under Maine law, unless the church received public funds or was a for-profit organization, Mr. Collette would not prevail in a lawsuit.