Religious leaders should be wary of mayor’s pro-secular apple

If New York City passed a law requiring all private religious schools to remove any references to the Bible from the curriculum, or demanded that parochial schools physically strip crucifixes or nativity scenes from the from their classrooms, such a law would plainly be in violation of the First Amendment, and would be struck down by the courts.

However, if the city uses a carrot instead of a stick to entice private religious schools to agree to those very same actions, the First Amendment legally has nothing to say, only religious leaders consciences stand in the way of such secularizing and divisive policies.

Such an apparent Hobson’s choice was recently faced by the prelates of the New York Catholic dioceses, as well as Jewish religious leaders, with the Catholic Church hierarchy succumbing to the allure of the easy money, but many Jewish leaders successfully resisting the temptation.

It has been widely reported that the Archdiocese of New York, represented by Cardinal Dolan, and the Diocese of Brooklyn Queens, helmed by Bishop DiMarzio, have publicly supported Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Free Universal Pre-Kindergarten programs. Free UPK programs are therefore now becoming available at many Catholic elementary academies/schools in New York City, including Brooklyn and Queens, subsidized by a growing city bureaucracy under an increasingly unpopular Mayor de Blasio.

While other early childhood programs are run entirely by the academy or school, UPK is a New York State early childhood initiative, administered in New York City by the Department of Education. In New York City, children are eligible if they are 4 years old or become 4 by Dec. 31 of the school year in which they are enrolled in the program.

According to DiBlasio, free UPK would ensure that every child regardless of income would receive a seat in school. The mayor therefore needed to scramble to find space for 24,000 pre-kindergarten students by the fall of 2015.

The Catholic Archdiocese of New York, along with the Diocese of Brooklyn, had an estimated 1,700 seats available for DiBlasio’s Universal Prekindergarten students. But in exchange for receiving these UPK funds from the City of New York, the Catholic leaders have explicitly agreed to remove all references to Jesus Christ from these school classrooms. That directive effectively means that all crucifixes, statues of the Virgin Mary and nativity scenes at Christmas must be removed from any classroom used for UPK even if every one of the students attending happens to be Catholic or Christian.

In essence, by agreeing to accept New York City taxpayer funds to fill up classrooms at their Catholic schools, the church has effectively agreed to start to become a quasi-public school system during school hours, even to the detriment of Catholic school students who are paying full tuition to attend these same pre-kindergarten classes.

Dr. Timothy McNiff, schools superintendent for the Archdiocese of New York, reportedly told the media that the situation is lamentable. He noted, however, that UPK families who want age-appropriate Catholic religious instruction for their children have other options for their children outside of the UPK classroom. He cited parish programs and other church and school wrap-around programs that continue after the publicly-funded UPK classes. Therefore, there is no wonder that Jewish religious institutions are reportedly opting not to participate, especially Jewish Orthodox schools, due to the programs overtly secular expectations.

According to the New York Times, the biblical story of Noah’s Ark will be taught, without mention of who told Noah to build it and crucifixes will be removed

This is an unacceptable compromise of beliefs by the Catholic hierarchy, in my personal opinion.

Catholic leaders should seriously reconsider their decision to support Mayor DiBlasio’s efforts in this regard, and learn something about standing up for Biblical principles from our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Joseph Gioconda


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