A recent Christian Century article raises a pressing topic for church-related higher education.  Manhattan College, a Catholic school in New York, has become the center for a controversial decision by the National Labor Relations Board.  The presenting issue has to do with whether part-time faculty can unionize (a very important matter), but, in the explanation of the ruling the NLRB has forced the question of what identifies a church-related college.  As the Century article says in the first paragraph: “The [NLRB] isn’t convinced that the Catholic school is actually Catholic.”

The school apparently had used the argument of religious liberty as a way of defending their wish to avoid permitting part-time faculty to unionize.  But in the ruling, the Board argued that “federal oversight would not compromise the school’s religious freedom because its ‘stated purpose does not involve the propagation of a religious faith, teachers are not required to adhere to or promote religious tenets, [and] a religious order does not exercise control over hiring, firing, or day-to-day operations.'”

By this definition, Southern Methodist University, where I work as Chaplain, would also not qualify as a school with a religious mission.  Yet, I just gave a talk here on campus that emphasized the very point that this regional NLRB’s definition seems not to allow: the importance of integrating faith with the academic mission, while protecting academic freedom and individual prerogative to express a particular faith, or to forego expression of any particular religious tradition.

So, we face at least two challenges.  First, if the Century article’s description is accurate, then the NLRB has used a far too narrow definition of what a religiously-affiliated school must do to “prove” that it is in fact religiously-affiliated.  There is much more to the vision of a faith-driven and high-quality college education than “propagation of the faith” and requiring professors to adhere to said faith (these criteria were in their definition).  A school like SMU can be actively engaged in realizing a vision of our academic mission on the basis of the robust practice of the Christian faith (since SMU is connected to a Protestant Christian denomination) that nonetheless does not set up control conditions like the ones the NLRB is demanding.

The second challenge is how to come up with a definition that works well for all considered.  More importantly, who gets to participate in such a definition?  Must a government agency do this work without any input from religious groups?  Of course not. Agreed, the principle of separation of church and state must be upheld, but to what degree and in what manner?  Who is responsible (therefore has authority) to monitor the definitional boundaries here?

A slightly more than one page article in a magazine obviously has limitations with regard to exploring such difficult questions.  Still, I do not see anyone questioning the assumptions about how a word (or a school) is defined and identified.  It’s time to question these assumptions.

Should Church-Related Schools Be Concerned?

3 thoughts on “Should Church-Related Schools Be Concerned?

  • March 18, 2011 at 9:05 pm


    Many schools with religious affiliations would be excluded by this definition (mine included, I think). I expect there are variations of what “affiliated” means. For example, the president of my school (I started to say “our school”–funny) was once at least nominally a West Conference appointment, but I’m assuming that with the appointment of our current president, the nature of that relationship changed. The mission of Bethel College is grounded in the social justice vision of the Mennonite tradition, but I don’t think it would meet the definition set forth above, either.

    What would that definition look like to you? And on a tangential line, why would working at a Catholic school preclude union membership?

  • March 20, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Yes, you should be concerned. Camel’s nose. And, the First Amendment.

    Secular Progressive” liberals use “Social Justice” and unionization as a wedge.

    IMHO there is a FIrst Amendment religious objection to the NLRB’s action. They have no standing to decide “religious enough”. If Stamford is a “religious” school, then so’s MC. It doesn’t matter what the Prez thinks, the NLRB thinks, or what you and I think. The Gooferment must “steer clear” of Religion. Litmus tests are for chemistry. If the University of Phoenix claims to worship the internet, then it to is entitled to the protection of the First.

    Why aren’t you in the opposition? You’re conceding on big issues: jurisdiction, standing, and venue. And, you’re agreeing to play by the “Secular Progressive” rulebook.

    Do you think you’re going to get a fair shake in a Gooferment Court? I don’t.

    And, I have yet to hear a grievance that we should allow the Gooferment to play judge, jury, and executioner.

  • March 20, 2011 at 12:44 pm


    Why not a union? Because it’s not about the union, it’s about what happens because of the union. DOes MC then have to offer insurance coverage for abortions?

    And, the “union” is a Gooferment corporation. The First Amendment clearly recognizes our inalienable right to our religion. A union IS the Gooferment intruding into our religious freedom.

    Remember first they came for MC, and I was n’t an MC. And when they came for me, there was no one left.

    Regardless of how much people of good will and faith can disagree on theology, and any number of other topics. An attack on one is an attack on us all.

    The Gooferment is a meme that kills its citizens. A hive can only have one Queen and the Gooferment doesn’t plan to share that status with any “Church”.



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