While the Supreme Court was hearing oral argument May 13 about whether Catholic schools should have the right to decide whom they employ as teachers, my daughter was on a Zoom call with her Catholic schoolteacher.
Like the schools that appeared before the court, Our Lady of Guadalupe School and St. James School, her Catholic elementary school has one class per grade, and as a result, one teacher per grade. My daughter’s second grade teacher doesn’t just teach her about sentence structure and multiplication tables, she did the formal instruction to prepare her to give her first confession and to receive her first communion.
Further, every subject taught at her school is infused with religion. This is why parents such as myself choose religious education. Just as we believe our faith should permeate all aspects of our lives, we believe that a good education should be infused with spirituality, especially when children are in the most impressionable stages of their lives. For me and my husband, that meant making the difficult choice to take our daughter out of an excellent public school where she was thriving and put her in a school that would form her faith as well.
Yet the choices made by parents like us all around this country, parents who sacrificed accordingly, are threatened by a lawsuit at the Supreme Court. The lawsuit argues that courts can entangle themselves in religious schools’ selection of teachers who teach the faith. In short, they argue that teachers of religion aren’t religious enough under the First Amendment, and thus the government should have the right to intervene in employment decisions regarding teachers like my daughter’s—teachers who daily pass on the faith to our children.
Yet anyone who has ever opted for a parochial education knows that religion teachers at religious schools are imparting the faith from bell to bell. They lead children in prayers, they teach doctrine, they model the faith, they connect secular subjects to religious themes.
My son’s preschool teacher started her most recent Zoom class with a prayer. It is no exaggeration to say that for many Catholic school children, their teachers have a bigger impact on their faith than their parish priest. Justice Samuel Alito emphasized that “for a school that is set up by a religious body, the teaching of religion is central…otherwise the students could go to the public school and not have to pay any tuition.”
It certainly is in the case of my daughter, who was taught to confess her sins not by our parish priest or even the priest who runs the school, but by the young woman who also corrects her spelling tests. To suggest that she is not an integral part of passing on the faith is basically a rejection of the very concept of Catholic and religious education. If she weren’t imparting the faith in every aspect of her job, she would be failing at a core part of it.
Failing at their jobs is exactly what both teachers that brought suit in these cases were fired for. In both instances they failed to meet basic standards of excellence imposed across the board at their respective schools, even after repeated efforts to help them improve. Allowing these claims to proceed is a surefire way to give the government an opening into the religious education of children.
And let’s be honest, there are plenty of government bureaucrats beholden to things like gender ideology that would be delighted at the chance to “help” Catholic and other religious schools decide whom they hire and what they teach. Or whether or not something is actually a sin. It’s a classic slope one would call slippery.
Catholic schools are no exception to the professional and educational standards of excellence parents want for our children. Using claims of discrimination as a wedge in the door for government bureaucrats would end religious education and the religious rights of parents to educate their children according to the dictates of their faith.
But the trial lawyers looking to undercut the religious rights of Catholic schools needn’t ask the Supreme Court if their teachers minister the faith. They should just ask the parents who chose Catholic school for their children, because that is exactly what those teachers were hired to do.
Ashley McGuire is a mother of three in the D.C. area and a senior fellow at the Catholic Association.