|NYC's Mayor de Blasio|
While New York City is considered one of the secular movement’s capitals, a sad turn of events coming from its new Mayor seems to allow the seeping hand of religion to play an increasing role in the lives of the City's most vulnerable – its children. The politicking behind early childhood education, in this case focused squarely on the Mayor’s universal Pre-K initiative, not only violates the separation clause of the Constitution but it also violates labor and tax laws as well.
In 2014, the New York Times, ran a story highlighting that exceptions to anti-discrimination hiring practices had been approved by the Mayor's office. Anti-discrimination laws have brought diversity to the workplace and could never be instituted in public education, corporate or government hiring practices. But for the sake of the de Blasio Pre-K initiative these regulations are being swept aside. Essentially, the compromise allows parochial and other religious schools that use their facility for the Mayor's Pre-K program the right to exclusively hire teachers who are of the same faith found in the house of worship where the program is housed.
Now if the schools were not receiving City tax dollars they could perhaps make the case that as private religious institutions they have the right to hire only those of the same faith. But this is YOUR money going to fund these schools and it is allowing them to bolster their staff while at the same time they are free and unaccountable to anti-discrimination laws.
This of course is a deal with the devil. For the Mayor and his team, and for anyone whose ever tried to appease a faith-based organization should understand, once you make a concession based on "faith-rights" all other concessions become easier to make. Essentially as you lower the bar for secular fairness in hiring you also close the door further on other Constitutional guarantees and protections.
In yet another compromise, the New York Times is reporting that the Mayor is allowing religious prayer during secular hours of instruction during and not AFTER the school day. This ensures religious groups can indoctrinate the children in their care while manipulating the City’s mandate on non-religious instruction. What if the child has no faith or is a different faith than the one being taught? This immediately makes the most vulnerable feel like an outsider and which is why Constitutional guarantees against a state religion exist in the first place.
While the Mayor and his team wish to throw a huge blanket around the City’s children and afford them the opportunity to begin learning and socializing early in life, they are also putting secular education into the hands of those who both abhor and want nothing to do with secular education. All of these concessions are meant to meet a self-imposed mandate of 70,000 pre-k students drafted into the Mayor’s program.
There are many legal, financial and ethical issues swirling around the decomposition of the Mayor's pre-K program as it relates to separation of church and state. For instance, what if you’re a secular, atheist or humanist parent and wish to raise your child without religious faith. At the same time you also want to send your child to the Mayor’s program?
If the only schools around your neighborhood are religious ones you can't enjoin the program or you're forced to send your child and have them illegally bombarded with religious doctrine. Your third choice is to hope to find a less conveniently located center. But all three options limit one’s choices and negates the fairness of the program as I imagine it was originally intended.
To put it bluntly your secular earned tax dollars are now funding religious school education. A violation of the Constitution if there ever was one. If you’re a nonbeliever that means any funding that goes to these pre-k schools should be considered an unfair use of your tax dollars. And if let’s say you’re religious and are paying City taxes, your tax dollars are going to fund parochial education of children who are not of your faith. So I’m sure Jews, Christians and Muslims would agree that educating your child in a faith not practiced in one's home is unnerving and unfair as well.
There is so much ethnic, social, economic, racial, secular and religious diversity in New York City. The Mayor’s pre-k initiative as it relates to religious violations of the Constitution doesn’t stir the melting pot it burns its contents. It forces secular parents to make hard choices, it puts blind taxpayer dollars which are meant to fund all the people’s needs and redirects them towards religious indoctrination. It allows for violations of fair labor practices - many of which came out of the Great Society initiatives of the 1960s and 1970s.
Ironically, as a child growing up in Brooklyn, I had the opportunity to go to free head start as part of LBJ’s Great Society programs. But I went to a secular school in Coney Island and met wonderful people of many faiths. There was no unfairness then and so we have the right to ask why allow for such unfairness now?
And I am in favor of the Mayor’s initiative and support the program. But not at the risk of violating Constitutional and civil rights or the elimination of labor and fair hiring protections.
In any case, if you are secular parent or even if you are a religious parent and wish to send your child to the Mayor's program beware! Your child may come home with ideas that are not traditional to your family or community's values, ideas or wishes.