Thursday, January 29, 2015
First, the Board’s balancing act impels it to make judgments—historically eschewed by the Supreme Court—about the religious character of various educational and employment practices. The Board’s deep intrusion into the university’s functioning is based on a “stark error,” said Board member Johnson in dissent, for it elevates the rights granted by the National Labor Relations Act to the same level as a right guaranteed by the Constitution. And in its willingness to use state power to protect legislatively granted rights, the Board assumes the authority to make judgments about how religious institutions are to conduct their business, not just in terms of employment practices but also in terms of how faculty roles have to be defined in order to exempt them from regulation.
This is, needless to say, a serious diminution of the free exercise protections religiously affiliated colleges and universities have hitherto enjoyed.
Second, and connected to this, I would note the majority’s assumption about the only kind of religious institution that may enjoy the full range of First Amendment protections. To use the invidious language the Supreme Court once used to describe such schools, only “pervasively sectarian” colleges and universities—those on the margins of an increasingly secular society—can expect to be exempt from NLRB regulation.