For leaders of church-related schools who want to be spared from government intervention, a United States Supreme Court decision last month signified a victory. Specifically, the high court ruled that the National Labor Relations Board has no jurisdiction in labor disputes involving teachers in church-managed schools.
The case most directly affected Catholic schools. Five years ago, the NLRB ordered union representation elections for lay teachers at two Roman Catholic schools in the Chicago area and at five high schools in the Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, diocese. (Teachers at the schools had sought to unionize by filing representation petitions with the NLRB.) The NLRB also had ordered the Indiana diocese to reinstate two teachers who reportedly were fired for taking part in prounion activities.
School administrators challenged the NLRB’s orders on First Amendment grounds, and a federal appeals court in Chicago sided with the schools. The court held that the NLRB was infringing on the religious character of the schools and upon the bishops’ authority. It also ruled that NLRB jurisdiction in church-run schools would violate both the free exercise and no establishment clauses of the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court decision, as revealed in a narrow 5–4 majority opinion, upheld the lower court ruling. However, the ruling skirted the constitutional issues raised by the Catholic officials and addressed by the lower court. The high court stated instead that there “would be a significant risk of infringement of the religion clauses of the First Amendment if the National Labor Relations Act conferred jurisdiction over church-operated schools.” (The Act guarantees to employees the right to join a labor union and penalizes employers ...1
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