Claiming religious exemption without the religion

Claiming religious exemption without the religion January 13, 2015

The National Labor Relations Board has said that colleges, in general, must allow professors to join a union.  To objections by church-related institutions, the board said that religious institutions may be exempt only if its professors actively promote and carry out a distinctly religious mission.  If the professors in a church-related institution do NOT carry out that mission–as many church-related but only nominally Christian institutions make a point of saying–then they can not claim a religious exemption.   This poses a problem for the host of church schools that have gone secular, but it strengthens the position of theologically conservative schools.  Mark Bauerlein explains. . .

From Mark Bauerlein, Why Religious Colleges Should Worry About This New Ruling | Mark Bauerlein | First Things:

Last month, the National Labor Relations Board issued an important ruling that promises to land in the courts. The ensuing decision may be as momentous as the Yeshiva case of 1980, which determined that tenured and tenure-track faculty members have managerial status and cannot unionize. The new ruling opens the way for more professors in post-secondary institutions to unionize, including religious schools.

Administrators are wondering what it portends, particularly whether it means a more troublesome faculty work force. But those at religious might also ask a policy question: Should they have allowed professors to work at their institution in complete independence of the religious identity of the school?

I know several scholars who teach at prominent religious colleges, but have no religious commitments in their work at all. If you suggested to them that they should subscribe to the religious mission of their respective schools, they would reject the idea out of hand, citing academic freedom or the norms of their discipline.

The attitude is shared by many administrators as well, and it marks their precise point of vulnerability. As reported at Inside Higher Ed, the Board has ruled that teachers may unionize at religious colleges even if the colleges have disallowed unionization on religious grounds. Colleges may prevent unionization only if teachers are charged with actively maintaining the religious mission of the college.

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