New Jersey Supreme Court protects religious schools Court upholds ability of religious schools to hire teachers who follow their faith
Ryan Colby 202-349-7219 firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court of New Jersey today protected the ability of religious schools to make key choices about matters of faith, doctrine, and internal governance without courts getting involved. In Crisitello v. St. Theresa School, a former teacher at a Catholic school in New Jersey sued the school, which is part of the Archdiocese of Newark, after the school did not offer her a new contract because she had violated both her previous contract and Catholic teaching. Becket argued the case to the New Jersey Supreme Court on behalf of Agudath Israel of America, a national Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization that represents the interests of many Orthodox Jewish schools in New Jersey. Today the court ruled that religious schools throughout the state are free to decide who should carry out their ministries of passing on the faith to the next generation.
The Archdiocese of Newark operates St. Theresa School, which has served families in the town of Kenilworth, New Jersey, for over sixty years. Since the late 1970s, it has been run by Salesian Sisters who strive to offer their students a faith-centered education inspired by the teachings of St. John Bosco. To ensure that ministry remains strong, St. Theresa—like all other schools in the Archdiocese—requires all its staff to respect and promote the Church’s teachings. For this reason, all staff must sign an agreement to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church in both their professional and private lives—serving as examples of the faith to both the students and the community alike. This is similar to the practices of many other religious schools in New Jersey, including Orthodox Jewish schools.
“Teachers make the school,” said Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, who argued the case to the New Jersey Supreme Court. “The whole point of a religious school is to help parents educate their children in their faith. And to do that, schools must have teachers who believe in and follow their faith.”
During the 2013 school year, a teacher named Victoria Crisitello voluntarily told St. Theresa that she was in violation of Church teaching and the Code of Ethics she had agreed to when she was hired. The school therefore declined to offer her a new contract for the following school year. Soon after, Crisitello filed suit.
Becket intervened in the case on behalf of Agudath Israel of America, a national Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, and argued the appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court in April 2023. In briefing and at the oral argument, Becket explained that church autonomy—which provides religious groups the power to decide matters of faith, doctrine, and internal governance—protects Orthodox Jewish schools and other religious schools. Today the court, in a unanimous opinion, held that under New Jersey law, “The religious tenets exception allowed St. Theresa’s to require its employees, as a condition of employment, to abide by Catholic law.”
“This decision is a victory for all religious schools in the state of New Jersey, but it is especially important for Orthodox Jews,” said Rassbach. “There are too many examples in history of governments interfering with Jewish schools, or worse. Today the Court did the right thing for Orthodox Jews and all other New Jerseyans by stopping this attempt to drag government into direct control of religious schools.”
For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby at email@example.com or 202-349-7219. Interviews can be arranged in English, Mandarin, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.