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Supreme Court of the United States

Can a Court Dictate How a Christian College Carries Out Its Mission?

November 2, 2021

The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the government should stay out of religious schools’ hiring practices.

But, apparently, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts did not get the memo. And now the mission of one Christian college is in jeopardy.

Let’s take a closer look at this case.

Who: Gordon College

Gordon College, originally known as Boston Missionary Training School, “strives to graduate men and women distinguished by intellectual maturity and Christian character....” It does this by combining a high-quality liberal arts education with religious instruction.

It is because of this integration of faith and learning that students choose to attend Gordon College. They want to learn how to apply their Christian faith to their future careers.

At Gordon College, professors are key to helping students make this connection. Professors are expected to teach not only the subject matter in their class, but also the faith—and how it all relates.

That’s why, to ensure that it is staying true to its beliefs and mission, Gordon College requires students and faculty alike to sign a statement of faith and agree to abide by biblical standards of living. And the college is very open not only about these requirements but also its faith-based mission, as a quick tour of the college’s website confirms.

What: Gordon College v. DeWeese-Boyd

It’s not unusual for religious colleges to expect their professors to inculcate the faith. In fact, the mission of these colleges depends on it. And that’s why it’s so important that Gordon College be free to make employment decisions based on whether individuals will help carry out that mission in its classrooms.

But that freedom is now being challenged.

In 2016, Gordon College Associate Professor Margaret DeWeese-Boyd was denied a promotion to full professorship because her faculty scholarship and institutional service fell short of the college’s expectations. She also revealed her disagreement with multiple beliefs laid out in Gordon College’s statement of faith and conduct guidelines—which she was required to reaffirm every year.

When: 2017 – Present

Because she was not promoted, Professor DeWeese-Boyd filed a lawsuit against Gordon College in 2017. In March 2021, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled in her favor. In so doing, the court held that Gordon College’s professors were not essential to its religious mission because not all professors led worship service or student prayer.

But it is Gordon College that gets to make that call, not a court.

The First Amendment protects the right of religious colleges to freely exercise their faith, including deciding who teaches the faith in their classrooms. The courts have no role in that. That’s why, on August 2, 2021, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to hear Gordon College’s case.

Where: Wenham, Massachusetts

Gordon College is located in Wenham, Massachusetts.

Why: Protect the freedom of religious colleges to decide who can teach the faith

The First Amendment is clear: Religious institutions, including Christian colleges, are free to choose who teaches the faith. Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions confirm this. Just last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Our Lady of Guadalupe that “The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission.” And if religious colleges are not permitted to make decisions about who oversees that religious education and formation, that threatens their very existence.

The Bottom Line

The government should not interfere with the hiring decisions of religious colleges’ faculty.


Alliance Defending Freedom

Alliance Defending Freedom

Non-profit organization

Alliance Defending Freedom advocates for your right to freely live out your faith


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