Over the past year, the Diocese of Scranton has undergone the difficult transition of restructuring its Catholic schools. With change there is always challenge. The conflict that has developed with teachers involved with the Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers (SDACT) is unfortunate.The introduction of HB 2626 takes the conflict statewide. The bill would produce serious religious freedom and constitutional consequences that go well beyond who gets to represent the interests of some Catholic school teachers in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
House Bill 2626 would grant a governmental agency the right to examine Church doctrines and religiously based disciplines, and declare those doctrines and disciplines to be mere “pretexts.” The authorization of that type of church-state entanglement would provoke a constitutional confrontation of the first magnitude.
Pennsylvania has a long history of fostering an environment where private, independent, religious schools can operate according to the tenets of a particular faith or philosophical point of view. These schools, whether they are Quaker or Mennonite schools, yeshivas, the Catholic educational systems in nine dioceses, or other private religious educational institutions such as Scranton Preparatory School or the Hebrew Day School, have all been able to advance in an atmosphere free of the intrusion of the Commonwealth into their daily operations.
The established goals and religious objectives of these venerable schools will be seriously impacted if HB 2626 passes and gives authority to the government -not the sponsoring Church or faith group – to dictate which religious principles are negotiable in a labor dispute. HB 2626 will disrupt the ability of all private, independent and religious organizations to conduct their schools.
Education is a sacred apostolate of the Catholic Church. Teachers and staff in Catholic schools are not mere employees, but ministers in advancing an important mission. The bill seeks to portray Catholic schools as indistinct from commercial institutions, and fails to acknowledge that the schools are, first and foremost, communities of faith, in which all work cooperatively to transmit the religious doctrines and values of the Catholic faith to new generations of Catholics. This is precisely what makes Catholic schools special. HB 2626 will compromise the religious character of Catholic schools in direct violation of the constitutional separation between church and state.
Fair and just employment and the rights of workers to organize are principles that have long been recognized and supported by the Catholic Church. The dignity of work is one of the tenets of our faith. The Diocese of Scranton looks forward to joining with other Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania and with an array of representatives from other religious schools across the Commonwealth in order to oppose HB 2626, not because the Church opposes unions, but because the government has no place in interposing itself as arbiter within religious ministries.
HB 2626, introduced on June 11, 2008, would force religious institutions to recognize unions.
This statement appears on the Diocese of Scranton website.