Newman Society Urges Supreme Court to Apply Ministerial Exception to Religious Colleges

On Thursday, The Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes and defends faithful Catholic education, with the International Alliance for Christian Education and the Association for Biblical Higher Education, urged the United States Supreme Court to overturn a Massachusetts high court ruling that would severely restrict the ministerial exception for religious higher education.

The amicus brief was authored and filed on Sept. 2 by Sharon Rose and Samuel Diehl of the Washington, D.C.-based Cross Castle PLLC.

In March, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled in Gordon College v. DeWeese-Boyd that Gordon College is indeed a Christian college and its professors are required to teach and uphold Christian principles, but the Court nevertheless allowed a dissenting social work professor to proceed with a lawsuit against the college for refusing to promote her. Court interference in religious hiring practices is a violation of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause and the ministerial exception, according to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Beru.

“Catholic and other religious colleges deserve the same First Amendment protections that have been upheld for religious schools,” said Patrick Reilly, President of The Cardinal Newman Society. “The Supreme Court last year clearly upheld the ministerial exception with regard to a schoolteacher hired specifically to teach religion classes. We now call on the Court to make clear that the ministerial exception applies to professors, regardless of their discipline, at institutions where religious faith informs all that is taught and employees are required to be witnesses to religious beliefs.”

As argued in the brief, “Gordon is entitled to define its faith and determine how that faith is carried out in matters of internal government and employment, not individual faculty members. The standard the Massachusetts Court applied fundamentally threatens Gordon’s and other religious institutions’ ability to accomplish their missions and to maintain their pervasively religious character.”

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