October 2005 Church & State | AU Bulletin

A state appeals court has overturned an attempt by faculty at a Roman Catholic school in Michigan to join the state’s largest teachers’ union.

Instructors at Brother Rice High School in suburban Detroit sought to join the Michigan Education Association, and last year, the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) ordered school officials to allow them to do so. But school officials, represented by the ultra-conservative Thomas More Law Center, challenged MERC’s ruling as a violation of the private school’s religious liberty rights.

On August 16, a three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously ruled in Michigan Education Association v. Christian Brothers Institute of Michigan that “nothing in the [Labor Mediation Act] expressly grants the MERC jurisdiction over labor issues that arise in parochial schools.”

Although the court did not address the religious school’s religious liberty claim, it cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1979 decision in NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, which noted that a religious school’s labor decisions “raise substantial First Amendment concerns.”