440 U.S. 490 (1979), 77-752, National Labor Relations Board v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago

Docket Nº:No. 77-752
Citation:440 U.S. 490, 99 S.Ct. 1313, 59 L.Ed.2d 533
Party Name:National Labor Relations Board v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago
Case Date:March 21, 1979
Court:United States Supreme Court

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440 U.S. 490 (1979)

99 S.Ct. 1313, 59 L.Ed.2d 533

National Labor Relations Board


Catholic Bishop of Chicago

No. 77-752

United States Supreme Court

March 21, 1979

Argued October 30, 1978




The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certified unions as bargaining agents for lay teachers in schools operated by respondents, which refused to recognize or bargain with the unions; the NLRB issued cease-and-desist orders against respondents, holding that it had properly assumed jurisdiction over the schools. Exercise of jurisdiction was asserted to be in line with its policy of declining jurisdiction only when schools are "completely religious" not just "religiously associated," as it found to be the case here, because the schools taught secular as well as religious subjects. On respondents' challenges to the NLRB orders, the Court of Appeals denied enforcement, holding that the NLRB standard failed to provide a workable guide for the exercise of its discretion, and that the NLRB's assumption of jurisdiction was foreclosed by the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment.

Held: Schools operated by a church to teach both religious and secular subjects are not within the jurisdiction granted by the National Labor Relations Act, and the NLRB was therefore without authority to issue the orders against respondents. Pp. 499-507.

(a) There would be a significant risk of infringement of the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment if the Act conferred jurisdiction over church-operated schools. Cf. Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 617. Pp. 501-504.

(b) Neither the language of the statute nor its legislative history discloses any affirmative intention by Congress that church-operated schools be within the NLRB's jurisdiction, and, absent a clear expression of Congress' intent to bring teachers of church-operated schools within the NLRB's jurisdiction, the Court will not construe the Act in such a way as would call for the resolution of difficult and sensitive First Amendment questions. Pp. 504-507.

559 F.2d 1112, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a

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dissenting opinion, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 508.

BURGER, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case arises out of the National Labor Relations Board's exercise of jurisdiction over lay faculty members at two groups of Catholic high schools. We granted certiorari to consider two questions: (a) whether teachers in schools operated by a church to teach both religious and secular subjects are within the jurisdiction granted by the National Labor Relations Act; and (b) if the Act authorizes such jurisdiction, does its exercise violate the guarantees of the Religion Clauses f the First Amendment? 434 U.S. 1061 (1978).

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One group of schools is operated by the Catholic Bishop of Chicago, a corporation sole; the other group is operated by the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Inc. The group operated by the Catholic Bishop of Chicago consists of two schools, Quigley North and Quigley South.1 Those schools are termed "minor seminaries" because of their role in educating high school students who may become priests. At one time, only students who manifested a positive and confirmed desire to be priests were admitted to [99 S.Ct. 1315] the Quigley schools. In 1970, the requirement was changed so that students admitted to these schools need not show a definite inclination toward the priesthood. Now the students need only be recommended by their parish priest as having a potential for the priesthood or for Christian leadership. The schools continue to provide special religious instruction not offered in other Catholic secondary schools. The Quigley schools also offer essentially the same college preparatory curriculum as public secondary schools. Their students participate in a variety of extracurricular activities which include secular as well as religious events. The schools are recognized by the State and accredited by a regional educational organization.2

The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Inc., has five high schools.3 Unlike the Quigley schools, the special recommendation

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of a priest is not a prerequisite for admission. Like the Quigley schools, however, these high schools seek to provide a traditional secular education, but oriented to the tenets of the Roman Catholic faith; religious training is also mandatory. These schools are similarly certified by the State.4

In 1974 and 1975, separate representation petitions were filed with the Board by interested union organizations for both the Quigley and the Fort Wayne-South Bend schools; representation was sought only for lay teachers.5 The schools challenged the assertion of jurisdiction on two grounds: (a) that they do not fall within the Board's discretionary jurisdictional criteria; and (b) that the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment preclude the Board's jurisdiction. The Board rejected the jurisdictional arguments on the basis of its decision in Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, 216 N.L.R.B. 249 (1975). There the Board explained that its policy was to decline jurisdiction over religiously sponsored organizations "only when they are completely religious, not just religiously associated." Id. at 250. Because neither group of schools was found to fall within the Board's "completely religious" category, the Board ordered elections. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, 220 N.L.R.B. 359 (1975).6

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In the Board-supervised election at the Quigley schools, the Quigley Education Alliance, a union affiliated with the Illinois Education Association, prevailed and was certified as the exclusive bargaining representative for 46 lay teachers. In the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the Community Alliance for Teachers of Catholic High Schools, a similar union organization, prevailed and was certified as the representative for the approximately 180 lay teachers. Notwithstanding the Board's order, the schools declined to recognize the unions or to bargain. The unions filed unfair labor practice complaints with the Board under §§ 8(a)(1) and (5) of the National Labor Relations Act, 49 Stat. 452, as [99 S.Ct. 1316] amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 158(a)(1) and (5). The schools opposed the General Counsel's motion for summary judgment, again challenging the Board's exercise of jurisdiction over religious schools on both statutory and constitutional grounds.

The Board reviewed the record of previous proceedings and concluded that all of the arguments had been raised or could have been raised in those earlier proceedings. Since the arguments had been rejected previously, the Board granted summary judgment, holding that it had properly exercised its statutory discretion in asserting jurisdiction over these schools.7 The Board concluded that the schools had violated the Act and ordered that they cease their unfair labor practices and that they bargain collectively with the unions. Catholic

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Bishop of Chicago, 224 N.L.R.B. 1221 (1976); Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Inc., 224 N.L.R.B. 1226 (1976).


The schools challenged the Board's orders in petitions to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. That court denied enforcement of the Board's orders. 559 F.2d 1112 (1977).8 The court considered the Board's actions in relation to its discretion in choosing to extend its jurisdiction only to religiously affiliated schools that were not "completely religious." It concluded that the Board had not properly exercised its discretion, because the Board's distinction between "completely religious" and "merely religiously associated" failed to provide a workable guide for the exercise of discretion:

We find the standard itself to be a simplistic black or white, purported rule containing no borderline demarcation of where "completely religious" takes over or, on the other hand, ceases. In our opinion, the dichotomous "completely religious -- merely religiously associated" standard provides no workable guide to the exercise of discretion. The determination that an institution is so completely a religious entity as to exclude any viable secular components obviously implicates very sensitive questions of faith and tradition. See, e.g., [ Wisconsin v.] Yoder, . . . 406 U.S. 205 [(1972)].

Id. at 1118.

The Court of Appeals recognized that the rejection of the Board's policy as to church-operated schools meant that the Board would extend its jurisdiction to all church-operated

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schools. The court therefore turned to the question of whether the Board could exercise that jurisdiction, consistent with constitutional limitations. It concluded that both the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment foreclosed the Board's jurisdiction. It reasoned that, from the initial act of certifying a union as the bargaining agent for lay teachers, the Board's action would impinge upon the freedom of church authorities to shape and direct teaching in accord with the requirements of their religion. It analyzed the Board's action in this way:

At some point, factual inquiry by courts or agencies into such matters [separating secular from religious training] would almost [99 S.Ct. 1317] necessarily raise First Amendment problems. If history demonstrates, as it does, that Roman Catholics founded an alternative school system for essentially religious reasons and continued to maintain them as an "integral part of the religious mission of the Catholic Church," Lemon [v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602], 616 [(1971)], courts and agencies would be hard-pressed to take official or judicial notice that these purposes were undermined or eviscerated by the determination to offer...

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