New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, for all his liberal qualities, has hardly been a champion of church/state separation since entering office. He added two Muslim holidays to the school calendar, closing them on those days. He did away with a health regulation requiring parents to sign a consent form when Orthodox Jewish rabbis suck blood from their baby’s penis. (Even though that practice had been linked to herpes.)
And now he’s giving away up to $20 million of taxpayer money to private schools, including religious ones, so that they can hire security guards:
The bill was sponsored by Councilman David G. Greenfield, a Democrat whose district in Brooklyn includes many Orthodox Jews who attend yeshivas. It was supported by the Orthodox Union and other religious groups, including the Archdiocese of New York and the Islamic Schools Association.
Mr. Greenfield described the bill as necessary to protect students in private and religious schools against bias attacks, school shootings and other forms of violence.
“This feels like pandering to the religious lobby,” Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said.
“We have every confidence that the N.Y.P.D. can figure out how to provide adequate levels of protection without this mandate, which is really yet another mechanism to provide government funding for religious education,” she added.
The whole idea of private schools is that they pay for things on their own in exchange for minimal government interference regarding what they teach, what standards students are held to, etc. Obviously, they should feel safe and secure, but if they feel a need for security beyond what the NYPD would provide, they should have to pay for it. There’s no reason taxpayer money should be used to benefit schools that opt out of the rules everyone else has to play by.
There are plenty of political reasons for de Blasio to pass this measure — he wins support from the religious community as well as unions that would fill these new positions — but he’s ignoring the First Amendment in order to curry favor with special interest groups.
Rob Boston, Director of Communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told me politics may only be a part of the motivation here:
In the event of an attack by terrorists carrying assault weapons and explosives, an unarmed security guard won’t be of much use. I suspect the real motive behind this vote is to get a foot in the door and create a precedent for diverting tax money to religious schools in New York City and the state. This has been a long-sought goal for Roman Catholic and Orthodox Jewish leaders in New York. The issue has surfaced repeatedly there. In the 1960s, there were even efforts to rewrite the state constitution and strip of its provisions that bar tax aid to religious institutions.
The bottom line is that this type of diversion of public funds to sectarian schools is inappropriate. Some religious groups have chosen to operate private school systems. Having made that choice, they should be responsible for funding them in their entirety, and that includes the cost of security. Public funds should be reserved for public institutions.
We’re rightly concerned about terrorism now, but those fears are no excuse to erode the church-state wall. Residents of New York City and elsewhere in the state need to wake up and pay attention to the long game here.
No word yet on whether any group will pursue legal action over this.