Catholic University Declares 1st Amendment Right To Ignore Catholicism

Loyola University, a Catholic university in Chicago, is opposing a union drive among its contingent academic workers. On the grounds that it would violate the university’s First Amendment religious liberty.

What is at stake here, is Loyola’s guaranteed First Amendment rights of religious freedom and autonomy—essentially our right to define our own mission and to govern our institution in accordance with our values and beliefs, free from government entanglement. The United States Supreme Court long ago ruled that the First Amendment provides an exemption from NLRB jurisdiction in order to protect an institution’s religious liberty and identity. We are not alone in raising this issue, as religious institutions across the country have opposed NLRB jurisdiction in similar union-organizing situations on the same grounds that we have raised. Our position before the NLRB is not driven by anti-worker sentiment or hostility to organized labor. By raising the jurisdictional issue at the hearing, we are simply seeking to maintain our right to religious freedom, to protect the heart and soul of our institution and its mission.

Here’s what Pope Leo XIII had to say on the topic of labor unions and Catholic teaching in Rerum Novarum:

The most important of all [workers’ associations] are workingmen’s unions, for these virtually include all the rest. History attests what excellent results were brought about by the artificers’ guilds of olden times. They were the means of affording not only many advantages to the workmen, but in no small degree of promoting the advancement of art, as numerous monuments remain to bear witness. Such unions should be suited to the requirements of this our age – an age of wider education, of different habits, and of far more numerous requirements in daily life. It is gratifying to know that there are actually in existence not a few associations of this nature, consisting either of workmen alone, or of workmen and employers together, but it were greatly to be desired that they should become more numerous and more efficient. We have spoken of them more than once, yet it will be well to explain here how notably they are needed, to show that they exist of their own right, and what should be their organization and their mode of action.

That position was reiterated even more strongly by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in their 1986 pastoral letter Economic Justice for All:

The Church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions. This is a specific application of the more general right to associate. In the words of Pope John Paul II, “The experience of history teaches that organizations of this type are an indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies.”(58) Unions may also legitimately resort to strikes where this is the only available means to the justice owed to workers.(59) No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself. Therefore, we firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing unions and prevent workers from organizing.

It is apparently the position of this Catholic university that it has a First Amendment freedom to follow Catholic teaching in every sphere of its operations…except in how it treats its workers.

Update (December 4, 9:30 am)

Some additional sources from the Catholic Church.

Pope John Paul II, Laborem Exercens (1981):

All these rights [of workers], together with the need for the workers themselves to secure them, give rise to yet another right: the right of association, that is to form associations for the purpose of defending the vital interests of those employed in the various professions. These associations are called labour or trade unions….Their task is to defend the existential interests of workers in all sectors in which their rights are concerned. The experience of history teaches that organizations of this type are an indispensableelement of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies.

Archbishop of Chicago, Address to the Chicago Federation of Labor, 2015 (h/t DriXander):

Similarly, the Church has consistently taught that workers have a right to have a voice in the workplace, to form and join unions, to bargain collectively and protect their rights. And the Church has never made a distinction between private and public sectors of the work. It was not 4 Msgr. Higgins who called unions “indispensable,” but Pope, now Saint, John Paul II in his powerful and still timely encyclical “On Human Work’” Work and unions are important not simply for what a worker “gets,” but how they enable a worker to provide for a family and participate in the workplace and society. Unions are important not simply for helping workers get more, but helping workers be more, to have a voice, a place to make a contribution to the good of the whole enterprise, to fellow workers and the whole of society….Across the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, ten Popes have affirmed and expanded this very vision.

For example in view of present day attempts to enact so-called right-to-work laws the Church is duty bound to challenge such efforts by raising questions based on longstanding principles. We have to ask, “Do these measures undermine the capacity of unions to organize, to represent workers and to negotiate contracts? Do such laws protect the weak and vulnerable? Do they promote the dignity of work and the rights of workers? Do they promote a more just society and a more fair economy? Do they advance the common good?” Lawmakers and others may see it differently, but history has shown that a society with a healthy, effective and responsible labor movement is a better place than one where other powerful economic interests have their way and the voices and rights of workers are diminished.

…Ad [sic] I have to admit not every claim of religious freedom is valid and the law has to protect the basic rights of all.

The Archdiocese of Chicago employs 15,000 full and part-time employees in its agencies, seminaries, schools and parishes. We strive to be a just employer. I have asked our Archdiocesan staff to review all of our human resource policies to ensure we are practicing what we preach about the dignity of work and the rights of workers. We will work earnestly to address any gaps. After all, like everyone we also need to be accountable. Because the Archdiocese is an employer, some employees and some unions may want to organize in our workplaces. Some Archdiocesan employees are already organized and we work with their union to advance our mission and our mutual obligations to workers. Others are not. And that is because some “jobs” in the Church are really ministerial positions, and must answer to a higher law than those passed by legislatures, we may have differences in this area. But if we stay firm in our commitment to principled dialogue, we can resolve differences and move forward together.

The position of the Catholic Church on the right of workers to form trade unions, even within Catholic institutions (that exception that the Archbishop of Chicago carves out at the end of his address is pretty limited and certainly does not apply to adjunct instructors at a university that does not impose denominational or sectarian obligations on its faculty or students), is clear.



  1. John Ryan December 3, 2015 at 10:14 pm | #

    There are no Trade Union representatives on the Board of trustees.

  2. salvatore j fallica December 3, 2015 at 10:14 pm | #

    i’ve had experience with the Catholic Church, Catholic schools and unions in my early days of teaching — and they invariably take the anti-union approach; in this they are not unlike the Koch Brothers or any of the right wing organizations — and they probably have help from a host of right wing anti-labor, union busting consultants. and their use of the 1st amendment is the latest right wing tactic, and the church is using it! it’s disgraceful because the growth of the catholic church as an institution was because of irish and italian and other ethnic immigrants who invariably belonged to unions, who funded churches and schools.

  3. xenon2 December 3, 2015 at 10:48 pm | #

    Did Leo Xlll really write Rerum Novarum?
    I had to click on it to see.

    Leo Xlll was less than neutral, during WW2.
    If he was for unions,
    then every one can be for unions.

  4. James South December 3, 2015 at 11:02 pm | #

    Leo XIII died in 1910. I’d be curious how anyone could know his views about WWII.

    • James South December 3, 2015 at 11:05 pm | #

      That should have been 1903, not 1910. Bad memory.

    • Bart December 4, 2015 at 1:45 pm | #

      Papal infallibility?

  5. Joel in Oakland December 4, 2015 at 12:33 am | #

    This notion of being above the law seems to run in the family. Take Justice Scalia (…please) regarding same-sex marriage:
    “In a recent speech to law students at Georgetown, [Scalia] argued that there is no principled basis for distinguishing child molesters from homosexuals, since both are minorities and, further, that the protection of minorities should be the responsibility of legislatures, not courts. After all, he remarked sarcastically, child abusers are also a ‘deserving minority,’ and added, ‘nobody loves them’.”

    This, from a recent NY Times op-ed by Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner and Law Prof. Eric Segall, “Justice Scalia’s Majoritarian Theocracy”.

    They note that “the logic of his position is that the Supreme Court should get out of the business of enforcing the Constitution altogether, for enforcing it overrides legislation, which is the product of elected officials, and hence of democracy. The model he appears to be embracing is that of the traditional British Constitution; until recently, Parliament was deemed to be Britain’s “supreme court.” It could overrule judicial decisions, but courts could not invalidate parliamentary legislation… The suggestion that the Constitution cannot override the religious beliefs of many American citizens is radical. It would imply, contrary to the provision that forbids religious tests for public office, that religious majorities are special wards of the Constitution. Justice Scalia seems to want to turn the Constitution upside down when it comes to government and religion; his political ideal verges on majoritarian theocracy.”

  6. Bill Michtom December 4, 2015 at 3:55 am | #

    I am a member of the First Unitarian Church in Portland, OR. Recently, a number of the employees formed a union. The church’s executive team (the senior and associate ministers and the church administrator) made the same argument about the NLRB as Loyola University.

    However, the congregants raised, as it were, hell, which got the “leaders” to the bargaining table and, after much stalling, the union has been fully recognized and a contract has been signed.

    Perhaps, Loyola’s students could speak up for their faculty.

    • Corey Robin December 4, 2015 at 7:51 am | #

      Wow, great story! Do you have any press links about that, particularly the role of the congregation?

  7. dri (@DriXander) December 4, 2015 at 8:44 am | #

    Loyola obviously isn’t an archdiocean school, but in October the archbishop of Chicago gave a speech at a labor hall on the church & labor, this very issue came up. Here is text of his remarks: What’s not included, but I tweeted at the time, when he talked about disagreements on what’s ministerial or not, he explicitly said not every claim of religious freedom is legit. The speech got a decent amount of press at the time because of the “right to work” comments & our governor, but I thought the affirmation closer to campus was pertinent.

  8. Hugh Miller December 4, 2015 at 11:13 am | #
  9. rdpike December 4, 2015 at 11:30 am | #

    The knee jerk anti-union attitude in the US is insane. Other advanced nations (Germany, etc) have strong market economies and strong unions. Seems impossible to address rising inequality here without stronger unions.

  10. Mushin December 4, 2015 at 12:21 pm | #

    Loyola Law School Los Angeles,Professor Robert Benson Emeritus, (Deceased) left us a classic ‘The Interpretation Game: How Judges and Lawyers Make the Law.” Of course, all law in the tragedy of the commons arose through the Roman Church and has a profound impact of cultural historic jurist prudence. The Black Robes claim to be the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions? I submit this is a very dangerous doctrine that has created regulatory-capture rent-controlled monopolies under the despotism on an elite arrogant aggressive private business oligarchy. If we want real change then we must change the sacrosanct bullsh$t of the USA Supreme Court. They pi$$ and sh$t like the rest of us and have the same passion to rule the world. Yet, they claim power of intellect in law as a special privilege by political appointment and have never been voted in by the people. Much less have they served the interests of the people. The US Supreme Court power is much more dangerous because they are in office for life and not responsible to functionaries elective controls. This elitist Patriarchy is an old historic institutional discourse claiming the common man is like sheep needing a shepherd(s). Our constitution never erected no single tribunal for fear of creating the despots currently demanding our obedience negating free requisite variety in solving the 2,500+ year old patriarchal conflict. We have yet to experience democracy.

    Instead we are experiencing Donald Trump the ultimate village idiot where the hatred of others is the emotioning fluid flow of political discourse in the American insane asylum. Reaching a little deeper into this 2,500+ years of patriarchal democracy I recommend everyone read “Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence” by Barry Spector.

    If you want to stop talking about the weather as philosopher king and queens and do something about it, let’s call the USA Supreme Court to redress the 1823 Chief Justice John Marshall decision in “Johnson v M’Intosh” and have some real fun breaking through the Discovery Doctrine driving all these Christians fruitcakes in this 2016 political election cycle creating poverty, injustice and inequality in human nature.
    Late Great Post Cory

  11. Nick Wolfla December 5, 2015 at 12:36 pm | #

    There is ecclesiastical recourse through the apostolic Signatura and one I would suggest they use. The Jesuit have tried to defy canon law before and it seems they need a refresher course

  12. Fr. John A. Boylan, OEF December 5, 2015 at 3:52 pm | #

    In many Roman Catholic parochial grammar schools, the situation for teachers is far worse. The bishop/archbishop in some jurisdictions (e.g., San Francisco) is requiring “loyalty oaths” from the lay faculty. One of the many things attributed to Jesus in the Gospel, that these “teaching authorities” (not to be confused with those who actually educate) pay no attention to is: “Do not swear an oath. Not by heaven or earth or anything else. Simply let your ‘yes’ be a YES and let your ‘no’ be a NO. Everything else comes from the evil one.” Perhaps a “teaching authority” clad in scarlet could explain to me like I was a five-year old: “How do you put the Gospel together with your action?” Just sayin’. Fr. John Boylan, OEF

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