South Jersey Catholic School Teachers Ass'n v. St. Teresa of the Infant Jesus Church Elementary School

CourtNew Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
Citation290 N.J.Super. 359,675 A.2d 1155
Parties, 152 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2673, 109 Ed. Law Rep. 822 SOUTH JERSEY CATHOLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS ASSOCIATION, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ST. TERESA OF THE INFANT JESUS CHURCH ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, Saint Bartholomew Church Elementary School, The Church of St. Jude Elementary School, Saint Joseph Pro-Cathedral Church Elementary School, Saint Joseph Church Elementary School and Sacred Heart Elementary School, Defendants-Respondents, and United States of America, Intervenor.
Decision Date16 May 1996

Page 359

290 N.J.Super. 359
675 A.2d 1155, 152 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2673,
109 Ed. Law Rep. 822
Saint Bartholomew Church Elementary School, The Church of
St. Jude Elementary School, Saint Joseph Pro-Cathedral
Church Elementary School, Saint Joseph Church Elementary
School and Sacred Heart Elementary School, Defendants-Respondents,
United States of America, Intervenor.
Superior Court of New Jersey,
Appellate Division.
Argued Feb. 15, 1996.
Decided May 16, 1996.

[675 A.2d 1159]

Page 367

Benjamin Eisner argued the cause for appellant (Spear, Wilderman, Borish, Endy, Spear and Runckel, attorneys; Katherine L. Schreiber, of counsel and on the brief).

Martin F. McKernan, Jr., argued the cause for respondents (McKernan, McKernan & Godino, attorneys, Mr. McKernan, on the brief).

Patricia A. Millett argued the cause for intervenor (Faith S. Hochberg, U.S. Attorney, Department of Justice, attorney; Frank W. Hunger, Assistant Attorney General, Michael Jay Singer, John L. Jacobus and Ms. Millett, on the brief).

Marc D. Stern, attorney for amicus curiae Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion, filed a brief.


The opinion of the court was delivered by



This case involves the right of parochial elementary school lay teachers to organize and bargain collectively with the six parish schools where they work. The schools are operated by these

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parishes under the auspices of the Diocese of Camden. These Catholic elementary school teachers claim the right to organize and bargain collectively secured to persons in private employment under Art. I, par. 19 of the New Jersey Constitution of 1947: "Persons in private employment shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively." The Diocese contends that it has the absolute right to refuse to recognize and to bargain collectively with any union because of the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Chancery Division judge agreed with the schools and the Diocese and dismissed the suit by the plaintiff, South Jersey Catholic School Teachers Association (SCTO), on federal constitutional grounds. We disagree and reverse.

We conclude that the compelling state governmental interest expressed in the grant of the fundamental right to organize and bargain collectively by the New Jersey State constitution prevails over the claim of an unconstitutional burden on the parish schools' and Diocese's free exercise of religion. We remand and direct the Chancery Division to order an official representational election and require defendants to bargain collectively with the chosen representative of the lay teachers.


On August 24, 1994 the plaintiff filed this complaint seeking a mandatory injunction compelling the Diocese's six elementary schools named as defendants to recognize it as the representative of the lay teachers and to bargain over terms and conditions of employment. In the alternative, the plaintiff sought an order requiring a secret-ballot election among the lay teachers to determine if plaintiff was indeed the majority representative. If so, plaintiff sought an order to compel collective bargaining.

On September 30, 1994 defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. On November 10, 1994 the plaintiff cross-moved for summary judgment. On December 16, 1994, after[675 A.2d 1160] argument, the Chancery Division judge

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rendered an oral opinion in defendants' favor. The judge expressed concern that defendants' First Amendment free exercise of religion rights would be impaired by a requirement that the schools recognize a teachers' union and bargain with it over terms and conditions of employment. He was also concerned that church-state entanglement would occur if plaintiff obtained relief. He granted summary judgment to the defendants.


The Diocese of Camden was established by Pope Pius XI in 1938. The counties of Atlantic, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem comprise the Diocese. Saint Joseph Camden's Pro-Cathedral, Saint Bartholomew's Church in Camden, The Church of Saint Teresa of the Infant Jesus in Runnemede, Saint Jude's Church in Gloucester Township, Sacred Heart Church in Vineland and Saint Joseph's Church in Hammonton, the six named defendants, all own, operate and maintain Catholic elementary schools. According to the certification of Reverend Monsignor Leonard Scott, Judicial Vicar of the Diocese of Camden, these schools are called "Catholic" because

they are supervised by an ecclesiastical juridic person, that is, the parish. It is their supervision by the parish that makes them "Catholic." The respective pastors of these six parishes are responsible for the operation and maintenance of these schools and they are charged with the supervision and administration of these institutions. These pastors are answerable to the Bishop of the Diocese of Camden who ... is to maintain "vigilance" over the schools which are operated by the parishes and who is authorized "to issue prescriptions dealing with the general regulation of Catholic schools[.]" The Bishop of the Diocese is, in turn, answerable to the Pope.

The heads of the six parish schools submitted nearly identical certifications which demonstrate that either an overwhelming majority or all the teachers in each of the six schools are laypersons. The certifications stressed the importance of these lay teachers:

T]he example of these adult lay teachers is perhaps even more crucial than the example that could be offered by priests or nuns. These lay teachers are expected, by their very word and action, by their lifestyle and by everything that they do or say, to uphold and live by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, to inculcate these teachings wherever and whenever possible and to serve as living witnesses of

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a faith-filled life. As the Pastor I would dismiss any teacher who expressed positions in the classroom contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

[The elementary school], unlike Catholic high schools and colleges, works with children at an extremely impressionable and formative age when the inculcation of the Faith is especially important. The School works with the Catholic students to prepare them for the sacraments of First Penance, First Holy Communion and Confirmation which means that the School is especially important in preparing the young for the sacramental element of their lives that will be the bedrock of their religious faith in the years to come.

Plaintiff is a member of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers. Members of the Association represent lay elementary and lay high school teachers for purposes of collective bargaining in other parts of the nation, including high school teachers in the dioceses in Trenton and Camden, New Jersey.

Since 1984 the Camden Diocese has recognized plaintiff SCTO as the collective bargaining representative of the approximately 223 lay high school teachers in the high schools it sponsors. Plaintiff and the Diocese have negotiated a series of collective bargaining agreements covering these secondary-school lay teachers.

On August 9, 1993 union activists held a meeting at the home of William Blumenstein, plaintiff's president and a teacher at one of the Diocese's high schools. Four members of the union's executive board and five lay teachers from two of the elementary schools in the Diocese met to discuss plaintiff undertaking organizing efforts on behalf of the lay [675 A.2d 1161] elementary teachers. In September 1993 plaintiff's executive board approved organizing efforts and expenditures for printing and copying an informational distribution to the elementary school teachers. The SCTO Chronicle, the union's newsletter, was distributed to teachers outside regional in-service locations in October and November 1993. The newsletter contained an authorization form on which the teachers could designate plaintiff as their representative in collective bargaining with the Diocese. Throughout this time, plaintiff's members met with teachers at the various schools who were interested in representation.

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According to certifications by Blumenstein and Christopher Ehrmann, plaintiff's regional representative, plaintiff was designated as the representative of a majority of the lay elementary teachers at the six elementary schools. According to Blumenstein, plaintiff's majority status can be confirmed by conducting an in camera review of the authorization cards signed by the teachers and a comparison of the signatures with the teachers' signatures on their W-4 forms. The authorization cards are not contained in the record. However, defendants do not dispute the claim that plaintiff SCTO has received majority support as the elementary school teachers' representative.

Beginning in November 1993, plaintiff opened a dialogue with the Diocese regarding its desire to represent the lay elementary teachers. In March 1994, Blumenstein met with Bishop James McHugh who presented him with a document entitled Minimum Standards for Organizations Wishing to Represent Lay Teachers in a Parish or Regional Catholic Elementary School in the Diocese of Camden (minimum standards). Bishop McHugh told Blumenstein that plaintiff's agreement to the minimum standards was a precondition both for recognizing the union and for permitting the teachers to vote on the question of union representation. Blumenstein was also told that the minimum standards were not negotiable.

The preamble of the minimum standards first acknowledges the Roman Catholic Church's recognition of the dignity of labor, stating:

The Catholic Church, beginning with the Encyclical Letter of Pope Leo XIII in 1891, The Condition of Labor (Rerum Novarum), and...

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