NEWARK, New Jersey – A judge in New Jersey has refused to overturn a Catholic school’s decision to deny re-enrollment to two sisters after a dispute over one of them wanting to play on the boys’ basketball team.
“The court does not have the authority to meddle in this decision,” Superior Court Judge Donald Kessler said in his ruling on Monday.
Kessler lashed out at the girls’ parents for making the dispute public, and said the family did not cite any law that would have allowed the court to interfere with the religious school’s decision.
Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the Archbishop of Newark, testified that he decided not to allow 13-year-old Sydney Phillips and her younger sister, Kaitlyn, to re-enroll because their parents’ behavior was not in the best interest of St. Theresa School in Kenilworth.
The dispute began when Sydney Phillips was not allowed to play on the boys’ basketball team.
When asked about the decision, the girls’ father, Scott Phillips, said he disagreed with the judge.
“It’s a sad day to be a Catholic,” Phillips told NJ.com. “I disagree with what he (Kessler) said. I disagree with the way he characterized it.”
The father’s lawyer said they have not decided if they will appeal.
The archdiocese issued a statement after the ruling saying it was grateful for the decision, but added that church officials wish “no ill will” for the family.
“We are thankful that the court has recognized that St. Theresa’s School, a private Catholic school within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, acted appropriately according to the Church’s rules and practices, and consistent with its absolute rights as protected by the First Amendment,” read the statement, signed by James Goodness, the archdiocese’s Director of Communications.
The statement said the archdiocese took the steps it did for only two reasons:
“We sought to ensure that the school and the men and women who undertook this ministry could continue to fulfill the school’s Catholic mission for the benefit of the children and parents it serves. We also sought to protect the serenity and well-being of a larger school and parish community that has been victimized by the behavior of two parents who would not accept the rules by which the school operates. At all times we acted not to punish anyone, but to protect the vital Catholic mission of a community of learning and faith.”
The statement went on to say there was no reason to rejoice in the decision.
“Although the family at the center of this lawsuit was unsuccessful in its efforts to disrupt and inflict further damage on the school community, we wish them no ill will,” the statement concluded. “It is our hope that the parents will learn from this experience as they seek alternative venues for their children’s education and athletic recreation.”
In his decision, the judge noted the archdiocese tried to work with the parents, but the Philipps’ family never tried to come to terms with the school.
Kessler also brought attention to the occasions the parents caused disruptions at the campus, and faulted them for trying to expand their litigation against the school, saying they “piled issues on top of resolved issues.”
The judge said the reason the girls were not re-enrolled at St. Theresa’s School was solely due to the parents’ conduct.
Crux staff contributed to this report.