The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) apparently thinks itself qualified to judge how religious a college is. So far in 2011, the NLRB declared two Catholic colleges not Catholic enough to be exempt from federal labor law.
This controversial labor union attack on Manhattan College and Xavier University has gone virtually unnoticed by the national news media. The Washington Times was the only major newspaper to mention this assault on religious freedom. According to Nexis searches, none of the broadcast networks reported the story, nor have the other major newspapers. The Washington Times piece was an op-ed from Patrick J. Reilly, the President of the Cardinal Newman Society, criticizing the "assault" on Catholic colleges.
In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled in NLRB vs. Catholic Bishop of Chicago stated 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." Since the court declared religious colleges to be off limits to unions, the NLRB has attempted to portray Catholic schools as secular on many occasions since that decision, so as to force them to unionize.
And now the NLRB has made itself the arbiter of whether or not colleges are Catholic enough to be exempt from federal labor law, as the Supreme Court ruled..
In January 2011, Manhattan College, which declares itself to be "an independent, Lasallian Catholic, coeducational institution of higher learning," was forced by the NLRB to recognize an adjunct faculty union. NLRB justified its decision on the grounds that Manhattan College lacked enough of a religious character to be exempt from provisions of federal labor law, arguing: "While the college may well be affiliated with the [Roman Catholic] Church and take pride in its historical relationship with the church, the college's public representations clearly demonstrate that it is not providing a 'religious educational environment'."
The same thing happened in May at Xavier University. Xavier, which declares itself to be “an officially recognized ministry of the Catholic Church” that “grounds its core activities of teaching, learning, scholarship, and service in Catholic theological principles,” opposed a group of adjunct professors who petitioned for the right to form a union at the university. The professors appealed to the NLRB and the NLRB ruled that the college "is not a church-operated institution," and claimed that they may "properly assert jurisdiction over the University in this case."
Catholic groups were outraged by the decisions. Patrick J. Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization which seeks to "renew and strengthen Catholic identity in Catholic higher education," slammed the Board's decision in a Washington Times op-ed as "harassing Catholic colleges and universities," and noted that the U.S. Court of District Appeals overturned similar NLRB decisions in 2002 and 2008.
Elizabeth Meers, a lawyer working on Manhattan College's appeal, stated that "It's a matter of principle for some Catholic institutions whether it is they or the government that determines whether they are Catholic."