In C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, the senior devil Screwtape writes to the junior devil Wormwood, “Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels he is ‘finally finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him.” No, the National Labor Relations Board didn’t really quote (or even mention) Lewis, but it did hand down a decision on January 10, 2011 that applies Screwtape’s observation.
The Board ruled it had jurisdiction over the labor practices of Manhattan College in the Bronx – a traditionally Catholic School. A copy of the ruling can be accessed at LifeSiteNews. The ruling noted that the NLRB often will not interfere in the relationship of a religious school and its faculty because teachers are responsible for inculcating the theological beliefs of the school. If government tells school officials who they should hire and which employees should be retained, it risks entangling itself with religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.
But the school must truly be a religious institution for this rule to apply, and Manhattan College no longer qualifies. It was founded as a Catholic institution, but drifted away from that original purpose. Religious training for students that’s designed to indoctrinate them in Catholicism is no longer required. Any religious courses that are required are academic in nature, not devotional. Neither faculty nor students are required to be Catholic, or even have a belief in God. The school emphasizes its independence from the Catholic Church in brochures and other documents made available to the public. And Manhattan College apparently receives very little funding or input into day to day operations by the Catholic Church or the religious order that founded the school.
These are just some of the factors that courts consider when determining whether an organization is religious and therefore subject to less government control. A comprehensive list of factors can be found on our resource page here. I also wrote a more specific, in-depth analysis on these factors titled Protecting Catholic Colleges From External Threats to Their Catholic Identity for the Cardinal Newman Society. You can access that article at their website here.
The lesson from the Manhattan College case is simple – schools and other religious organization must decide whether they are truly religious or not if they want to take advantage of religious exemptions to governmental regulation. It is not enough to call themselves religious, but act like a secular institution for funding, marketing, or recruiting reasons. Lewis was right, they cannot find their place in this world without the world finding its place in them.
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