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Latest News - June 2011

June 3, 2011
NLRB again denies religious character of a Catholic university

Last week a regional official of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that St. Xavier University in Chicago must allow adjunct professors to form a union. The ruling marked the second time this year that the NLRB has ruled that a Catholic institution of higher education lacks the distinctive religious character that would make it exempt from federal labor laws.

The NLRB ruling, following a similar decision involving Manhattan College earlier this year, underlines the complications that may arise when Catholic colleges and universities seek to increase their independence from Church authority. In making its ruling the NRLB noted that although St. Xavier College was founded by the Sisters of Mercy, the religious order now has only a small presence on campus and represents a minority on the governing board. There are no religious requirements for students, and the school’s bylaws, amended in 1993, do “not contain any reference to religion, God, Catholicism.”

However, while the NLRB decision shows the dangers of compromising a school’s Catholic identity, the Cardinal Newman Society—a group that promotes distinctly Catholic identity in Church-related institutions of higher education—points out that the NLRB now has a long history of interference in the internal affairs of Catholic institutions. “Even while Catholic colleges invite scrutiny by failing to adhere fully to the Catholic Church’s own requirements for Catholic education, the NLRB is clearly infringing on the rights of colleges to apply religious criteria without federal government interference,” said Patrick J. Reilly, the president of the Cardinal Newman Society.

“The media and Catholic leaders need to understand that the NLRB assault on Catholic colleges is not new—it has been ongoing for several decades—and it stands in clear contradiction to federal court rulings, which have instructed the NLRB to stop interfering with Catholic education,” Reilly says. In a policy paper released by the Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education, Reilly examines the historical record of the NLRB’s conflicts with Catholic colleges and universities. The cases of Manhattan and St. Xavier, he says, represent only the latest in a long series of NLRB efforts to infringe upon the religious freedom of Church institutions.


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