The Cardinal Newman Society, joined by several faithful Catholic colleges, today made a strong plea to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), urging it to abide by the U.S. Constitution and stop interfering with religious education.
The signers intervened in a possible landmark case involving Pacific Lutheran University, which a regional NLRB director found to be insufficiently religious to be exempt from NLRB oversight of employee relations, despite the University’s clear ties to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and prior federal rulings against NLRB harassment of religious colleges.
Although the case involves a Lutheran university, The Cardinal Newman Society has documented decades of NLRB violations of religious freedom that affected Catholic colleges and universities. Four Catholic institutions—Duquesne University, Manhattan College, Saint Xavier University and Seattle University—are currently opposing NLRB jurisdiction over their employee negotiations, and the Pacific Lutheran case could signal whether religious colleges will have to sue the NLRB in federal court to defend their constitutional rights.
The amicus brief was authored by expert attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom: Gregory Baylor, Heather Gebelin Hacker and Kevin Theriot, whose extensive work on religious freedom issues has included valuable assistance to The Cardinal Newman Society and religious schools and colleges. The full brief is posted online by the Newman Society’s Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education.
“Religious organizations have the right of autonomy over their internal governance, the right to be treated the same as all other religious groups and denominations by the government, and the right to be free from government meddling and intrusion in their operations and beliefs,” the attorneys write.
But they note that the NLRB regional director asserted jurisdiction over Pacific Lutheran based on an intrusive investigation and a conclusion that the University “was simply not religious enough to qualify” for exemption from oversight. “This very inquiry violates the First Amendment guarantees of religious autonomy, denominational neutrality and avoidance of excessive entanglement of government with religion,” the Catholic colleges argue.
Since 2011—well before the Obama administration’s HHS mandate fueled national concern for the constitutional rights of religious organizations—The Cardinal Newman Society has vocally opposed the NLRB’s attempts to measure the religious character of religious institutions.
“For two decades, The Cardinal Newman Society has advocated stronger Catholic identity in Catholic schools and colleges, and we agree that many of the historically religious colleges targeted by the NLRB could do much more to provide a faithful education,” said Patrick Reilly, president of The Cardinal Newman Society. “But no federal agency has the constitutional authority to make any judgment about the strength of religious instruction, and then to multiply its violations of the First Amendment by regulating employee policies that necessarily involve religious questions.”
“Ultimately, it is the most faithful religious institutions that will suffer when our government treads upon the First Amendment—not the colleges that have voluntarily compromised on fidelity,” Reilly added.
Signers to the amicus brief include The Cardinal Newman Society; Aquinas College in Nashville, Tenn.; Benedictine College of Atchison, Kan.; DeSales University of Center Valley, Penn.; Holy Spirit College of Atlanta, Ga.; Ignatius-Angelicum Liberal Studies Program; John Paul the Great University of Escondido, Calif.; Thomas Aquinas College of Santa Paula, Calif.; Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H.; University of St. Thomas in Houston, Tex.; and Wyoming Catholic College of Lander, Wyo.
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