Two actions by federal agencies this week have great importance to Catholic educators seeking relief from hostility to Catholic beliefs and protection of their religious freedom.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department filed a brief at the Indiana Supreme Court, defending the Constitutional right of an Indianapolis Catholic high school to uphold moral standards. The action supports the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, which is being sued by a teacher whose contract was terminated because of his public, same-sex marriage.
On Wednesday, the Education Department issued final rules to protect religious freedom in higher education. In addition to enforcing free speech and the rights of religious groups at public universities, the rule clarifies that a college with a clear religious mission is exempt from Title IX regulations, which is especially important to Catholic schools and colleges confronted by discrimination lawsuits because of the Catholic understanding of sexuality and marriage.
“The Newman Society has worked for 27 years to promote and defend faithful Catholic education,” says Newman Society President Patrick Reilly. “We are grateful to the Trump administration for its strong defense of religious freedom— a welcome relief after years of efforts by the Obama administration, many state and local governments, and activist organizations to force Catholic institutions to violate our faith and contradict our Catholic teaching.”
The mission of Catholic education requires that all Catholic school teachers are witnesses to the faith, in word and deed. Canon law requires that “teachers are to be outstanding in correct doctrine and integrity of life” (Canon 803). Catholic school teachers have an important role to play in helping prepare students not only for this life, but for the one to come.
The Justice Department rightly points out that Catholic institutions should be able to choose their own teachers, a right enshrined in the First Amendment. One part of the protection provided under the First Amendment is the “ministerial exception,” which was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court this summer. The Newman Society provided key points about the “ministerial exception,” including guidance to Catholic schools to be explicit about the religious duties and requirements for teachers.