2006-10-06 / Columnists

The Progressive

Church and State and Various Changes in Society
Commentary By John Paul Culotta

As a child attending a local Roman Catholic parish school, the Sisters of Charity taught me the catechism that was known as the Baltimore Catechism. This order founded by a first native born American, Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American born saint canonized by the church in Rome. She was born into a wealthy Protestant family, married, had children, and converted to Catholicism after her wealthy husband died in Italy. When we were taught American history, we were taught of the Roman Catholics who contributed to our country. We were frequently reminded of our need to love this country and that Catholics have a right to be part of the American political, social, and economic. We were reminded often that the Protestant majority often perceived our beloved religious beliefs as inconsistent with democratic ideals. My school motto was: For G-d and Country".

Discrimination because of religious beliefs was always part of American life and probably exists in many forms today. It was probably essential for Roman Catholicism to survive in the hostile environment of Protestant American to have parish schools that prepared children to understand they were as worthy as any child to the benefits of American citizenship. These schools operated without state funding.

I often believe my love for this country and it's political system was formed by the lesson taught by the devoted nuns and brothers of the Catholic school system. They were strong believers in separation of church and state. American political history was full of anti-Catholic movements. As the cold war began to be seen as a conflict between a religious nation and an atheistic one, Catholics began to be accepted as allies in the battle between these two points of view. Catholics, in order to be perceived as full-blooded Americans, were visceral anti-communists.

I recall the gospel lesson taught by Sister Anitia that Jesus teaches his followers to quote the Good Book " to render onto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to G-d the things that are G-d's." This message coincides with separation of church and state.

Today, many religious organizations including Roman Catholic organizations, believe taxpayer funds should be used to finance their religious objectives. The present administration in Washington often takes political positions based on a need to please a particular brand of popular Protestant belief. This is dangerous. If this nation were to take the position of my church there would probably be no civil divorces, artificial means of contraception would probably be unlawful (as it was in some states before a Supreme Court decision), there would be no accessibility to abortion, no stem cell research, and artistic expression may be censored on moral grounds.

Homosexuals could not adopt if catholic teaching was the law of the land. Capital punishment would be a thing of the past if the Catholic bishops proclamations were the law of the land. Preventive war would be difficult if catholic teaching were the law of this nation. This would be unacceptable to most of us. Both Liberals and Conservatives would be troubled if any religious group's beliefs had political ramifications.

New York Times on September 13, 2006 reported: " A group called Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a suit yesterday to block federal financing for an organization that provides marriage counseling based on the Bible." I have heard from some young people in this city who worked in a summer youth program financed by the city that were given assignments in churches.

These young people felt they were proselytized while performing secular functions. Financing to religious groups for social service purposes can be permissible if worship, religious instruction, or proselytization is clearly prohibited. Unfortunately, religious organizations have political power and disregard prohibitions. We also need to safeguard religions from government interference. It may be time to examine the constitutional parameters of church and state. Payments to religious organizations can be a vehicle for government to suppress legitimate religious criticism of political actions that are contrary to religious beliefs. With financing comes strings that can weaken the mission of religious groups.

On August 10, 2006 The New York Times reported: " The A.F.L.-C.I.O and the nation's largest organization of day laborers signed a partnership agreement intended to help the languishing labor movement tap into the potent energy of the immigrant rights movement." This is laudable. Why haven't the other media outlets proclaimed this development? Although The New York Times has had some recent creditability issues to contend with, many of the trends of our political, social, and economic life are only reported in the pages of this newspaper.

On Staten Island a high school principal has taken draconic measures regarding the electronic ban imposed by the Department of Education. This reminded the Progressive of the "noble experiment" called Prohibition. All regulation and laws imposed by government and it's agents need to have popular consensus to be effective in a Democracy. Prohibition failed because a majority of American citizens did not believe alcohol beverages should be banned. If a majority or a sizable minority object to a law or regulation, lawful authority loses respect.

The Staten Island Advance in an editorial on September 13, 2006 wrote: Like it or not, students, as well as lots of other people, use cell phones to communicate, including with their parents. They're a necessary evil. Ban cell phones in the classroom, by all means, but there has to be a way short of this all-encompassing ban to separate students from their cell phones in class, while allowing them at other, non-school times."

Again, The New York Times on September 14, 2006 reported on another social and economic trend largely ignored by other media outlets. This was about unemployment insurance benefits. According to the newspaper: "The nation's unemployment insurance program is seriously out of date, given the changes over the last 70 years in the U.S. labor market," said Lori Kletzer, an economist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Our present unemployment benefit program has remained for the most part unchanged since 1935. The Times stated that because "a growing number of workers do not have long-term full-time jobs, unemployment insurance is paid to just over a third of those laid off, government data show, and coverage is less likely among the lower income workers who most need it."

The Department of Education (DOE) is concerned about banning cell phones in our schools. At the same time, 115 city high schools failed to meet either state or federal standards for improving the scores of their students on several key measures, the State Education Department announced on September 13, 2006. On August 9, 2006.

The New York Post reported: "According to the Department of Education, 981 public school teachers received an 'unsatisfactory' rating in the 2005-2006 school year -an increase of 2.5 percent over the previous year and a whopping 70.6 percent spike since 2002-03."

The federal No Child Left Behind law gives parents or guardians of students attending public schools, who receive federal poverty aid, the right to see the credentials of teachers and their aides. On August 9, 2006 The New York Post reported: "While the 'right to know' provision has been on the books since 2002, activists and observers of the city school system say the figures suggested that the law has not been adequately publicized." It would appear the DOE needs to become concerned with their mission of education and stop wasting time objecting to parental concern over their children's safety to and from school.

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