Press Release

Court protects Catholic school’s right to choose its leaders New York appeals court safeguards unanimous Supreme Court protected right of church schools to choose their religious leaders

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A victory for schools of all faiths, a New York court ruled today that St. Anthony School and the Roman Archdiocese of New York can choose a principal who shares their faith. The ruling in Fratello v. Archdiocese of New York strengthens the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision Becket secured five years ago, ensuring that a Lutheran school, not the state, gets to choose leaders who agree with its mission.

Today’s court decision rejected the arguments of the opposing trial lawyer who publicly accused the Catholic Church of being “dangerous to society,” the Russian Orthodox Church as “indoctrinating children with Stalinist communism,” and the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision as an aid to “potential jihadists.” Rejecting these outrageous claims, the Manhattan court focused on the law, stating that religions must be free to choose their leaders: “a stammering Moses was chosen to lead the people, and a scrawny David to slay a giant.

“A Catholic school is nothing without a Catholic leader,” said Mercedes Lopez Blanco of the Archdiocese of New York. “The principal is an important minister of the faith, who holds a crucial position of passing on our values to the next generation. We are grateful students at St. Anthony’s can continue receiving the Catholic education they came for.”

As principal of St. Anthony School, Joanne Fratello was a religious leader responsible for leading students in daily prayer, inviting and accompanying them to mass, ensuring their curriculum and teachers expressed Catholic faith, and hosting them at religious ceremonies. When the school believed she was no longer effective at advancing the school’s Catholic values, St. Anthony’s simply did not renew her contract, rightfully exercising its right to choose the leaders who advance their faith. Yet the trial lawyer claimed that the school was not allowed to hire the principal who would best promote the Church’s teachings.

“The court saw right through this blatantly anti-Catholic lawsuit, agreeing with the Supreme Court that the church, not the state, should pick religious leaders,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at Becket, a non-profit religious liberty law firm, who argued the case for St. Anthony’s and the Archdiocese. “Now St. Anthony’s can go back to giving their students a quality education in the arts, sciences and faith.”

Becket represented St. Anthony School and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals along with James P. McCabe and Roderick J. Cassidy of the Archdiocese and Kenneth Novikoff and Barry Levy of Rivkin Radler LLP.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, please contact Melinda Skea at or 202-349-7224.Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.


Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more).