Friday, January 14, 2011
Feds Tell College: You’re Not Catholic
Cardinal Newman Society press release:
Immediately following today’s ruling that a New York Catholic college is not “religious” under federal law, The Cardinal Newman Society published an analysis from a top legal expert advising Catholic college leaders on ways to protect their religious freedoms by maintaining a strong Catholic identity.
“Federal and state laws are increasingly being used to coerce religious institutions into actions and commitments that violate deeply held religious convictions and moral principles,” warns Kevin Theriot, Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, in the analysis entitled “Protecting Catholic Colleges from External Threats to Their Religious Liberty,” which is posted at CatholicHigherEd.org.
Theriot suggests ways Catholic educators can defend against laws that require health insurance coverage for contraception or employee benefits for same-sex couples.
“It must be noted, however, that any available exemptions for religious institutions will not apply if a college that was founded as a religious institution has become largely secular,” Theriot cautions. “It is therefore vital that Catholic colleges and universities maintain their Catholic identity in all of their programs in order to best protect their religious character and mission.”
Earlier today, January 11, 2011, the federal government continued its assault on the religious liberty of Catholic institutions when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Manhattan College could not prevent faculty from unionizing on the basis that it is a religious institution. Despite acknowledging that the College is recognized as Catholic by the New York Archdiocese, the NLRB reviewed College statements and course content, finding “that the purpose of the College is secular and not the ‘propagation of a religious faith’.”
“For decades since the infamous Land O’Lakes declaration, too many Catholic colleges and universities have straddled the line between Catholic and secular,” said Patrick J. Reilly, President of The Cardinal Newman Society. “While the Vatican and bishops have patiently encouraged the renewal of Catholic identity, state and federal regulators are increasingly demanding that Catholic colleges justify their claims to be religious. For all but a handful of faithful Catholic colleges, this is a difficult if not impossible task. The great danger is that colleges faithful to the Magisterium will have their religious liberties stripped from them and that the slow process of renewal at other Catholic colleges will be short circuited by the government.”
The Cardinal Newman Society has been tracking the pattern of government interference in Catholic higher education since 2009. CNS has raised concerns about new U.S. Department of Education regulations encouraging state intrusion into higher education, an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruling against faithful Belmont Abbey College for refusing to cover contraceptives in its employee health plan, and state-mandated contraceptive coverage in student and employee health insurance.
In November 2010, CNS hosted a closed-door meeting with bishops and presidents of faithful Catholic colleges to discuss ways to defend the religious liberty of Catholic institutions of higher education. At the meeting and in The Cardinal Newman Society paper released today, Theriot identified ten factors that federal courts may consider when determining whether a school is exempt from certain laws as a religious organization. Several of the same factors were used by the NLRB in its ruling against Manhattan College.
Theriot issues this chilling warning in the introduction to his paper:
“Catholic colleges and universities have an advantage over other religious institutions in that the Catholic Church’s Canon Law and the Apostolic Constitution Ex corde Ecclesiae lay out the requirements for a college to be considered Catholic. While Church law is beyond the purview of this paper, it should be noted that a college that does not faithfully adhere to and apply the Catholic Church’s own law might find it difficult if not impossible to convince a secular court that it is a Catholic institution deserving protection.”