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Wrong Way to Teach About Race in Catholic Education

Human dignity and justice were topics in Catholic education long before the racial division of 2020. They are especially important today, as students need to understand an accurate history of racism and prejudices, learn Christian anthropology that teaches the dignity of all persons regardless of creed or color or origin, and strive for the communion to which Christ calls all of us.

And teaching these topics will remain central to Catholic education long after “critical race theory” has gone away.

But for now, the divisive, political ideology that seems opposed to nearly everything in Western civilization — simply because it is associated with white Europeans — is making headway into public schools. It’s difficult to thwart such efforts by activists, politicians and teacher unions to push false ideologies into public schools, because there is no clear authority or basis for truth in public education — only political power and public opinion.

But Catholic education is different. It is rooted in the truths of our faith, which reveal the foundations of reality, and it embraces classical philosophy and the West’s insights about human society, freedom, conscience, law and more. Therefore, Catholic education and critical race theory are simply incompatible.

There is a “radical disconnect between the Catholic worldview and critical race ideology,” which is why Catholic educators “must remain vigilant and faithful” to avoid allowing falsehood and division from corrupting the classroom, explain Dr. Denise Donohue and Dr. Dan Guernsey of The Cardinal Newman Society in their appeal against the “cancel culture.”

“Critical race theory misapplies personal sin to groups, irredeemably condemns those it labels as oppressors, condemns those who may happen to look like those oppressors, and makes moral demands of those it believes have privilege resulting from historic oppression,” write Donohue and Guernsey. “It also attempts to empower itself by manipulating race-based feelings of guilt and self-loathing in those in any way it connects to these claims. It provides these group-based sinners with a chance to feel righteous and pure in relation to their fellows once they acknowledge their guilt.”

This is “close to the heart of the pharisees whom [Christ] criticizes for their condemning legalism and self-righteousness.” But Catholic education strives to provide students “a clear understanding of sin and human agency and Christ’s expectations of those whom He has forgiven.”

Rather than adopting critical race theory, Catholics should rely on clear instruction provided in Vatican documents, the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letters, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to address complex topics like justice and human dignity. We have more than 2,000 years of wisdom to draw from!

“Catholic education offers Christ and the Gospel to the world as the ultimate solution to the sufferings and ills of humanity, including areas of social justice,” write Donohue and Guernsey. “The Church does not simply echo programs and agendas inspired by others’ values but brings to the table her own values of faith, forgiveness, mercy, and justice based on the divine revelation she is called to proclaim to all nations.”

Another concern is that critical race theory would trade studies in classical literature for contemporary books that are “shallow” and “politically correct.”

“Great literature provides a forum to explore the depths of the human condition,” explain Guernsey and Donohue. “Unfortunately cruelty, oppression and injustice are a perennial part of that condition. Educators wishing to explore these and related concepts will find no shortage of them throughout classical literature, where students can enter into a grand conversation through the ages with the best thinkers and most artful works humanity has produced.”

Classical literature and Catholic education have withstood the test of time. Critical race theory may have some popularity today, but not for long.

In a culture that constantly embraces new and even radical ideologies, Catholic students need to be taught how to find and hold onto truth across every division and through every age. They should be taught truth especially in the most divisive and heated situations. While critical race theory seeks to divide the world into racial categories, faithful Catholic education by promoting charity, community and rational dialogue can bring about healing through a deep encounter with the Divine Physician.

This article first appeared at the National Catholic Register.

10 Ways Catholic Education and Critical Race Theory Are Incompatible

Today America continues to struggle with the consequences of the terrible sin of slavery and the injustice of racism. With confidence in Christ, Catholic education teaches God’s will for humanity and helps students rise above hatred and injustice. But critical race theory promotes a false political ideology that aims to divide rather than heal American society.

The following are 10 ways Catholic education and critical race theory are simply incompatible, summarized from the Newman Society’s Principles of Catholic Identity, Catholic Curriculum Standards and “Background on Critical Race Theory and Critical Theory for Catholic Educators” by Dr. Denise Donohue.

1) Catholic education teaches from the truths of our faith and Christian anthropology. But critical race theory is a political, divisive ideology that is antithetical to the Catholic worldview.

2) Catholic education teaches the dignity of all people, made in the image and likeness of God. But critical race theory has its origins in critical theory, a Marxist inspired movement that views all things through the lens of power and divides society into oppressors and the oppressed. Critical race theory marks this division according to racial lines.

3) Charity and community are central to the mission of Catholic education. But critical race theory promotes division and forces people into competing racial groups.

4) Catholic education conforms consciences to Christ and His Church. But critical race theory imputes unconscious bias upon persons and deems racism a permanent condition.

5) Catholic education teaches that sin is an individual fault that can have devastating social impact. But critical race theory imputes guilt for “social sins” committed in the past.

6) Catholic education teaches the unity of faith and reason and helps students know and live the truth. But critical race theory is skeptical of objective truth and rejects the Western intellectual tradition. It places individual experience and cultural constructivism over reason.

7) Catholic education recognizes individual autonomy and cultivates students’ capacity for reason, without regard to skin color. But critical race theory assumes that race defines how one thinks and looks at the world.

8) Catholic education observes human accomplishments and failings according to a Catholic worldview, by which racism is one element of a fallen and redeemed nature. But critical race theory demands that history be taught through the lens of race, power and privilege.

9) Catholic education favors literature that promotes understanding of the human condition across time and culture. But critical race theory demands that classic texts be set aside for contemporary literature that is narrowly focused on race and social deconstruction.

10) Catholic education respects the natural and religious rights of parents to direct the formation of their children in collaboration with the school. But critical race theory manipulates education to form children according to its narrow ideology and to reshape culture.

10 Ways Catholic Education Counters ‘Cancel Culture’

Catholic education is different: its mission is rooted in the truth and salvific mission of the Catholic Church, and it forms young people for sainthood. When addressing sensitive topics—like race or sexuality—Catholic education must never shy away from the truth about man and God. Truth is the foundation of charity and community.

The following are 10 ways a faithful Catholic education counters the toxic “cancel culture” and false ideology, summarized from the Newman Society’s Principles of Catholic Identity, Catholic Curriculum Standards and “Catholic Education’s Call in the Face of ‘Cancel Culture’” by Dr. Dan Guernsey and Dr. Denise Donohue.

1) Embraces a Catholic worldview, where faith and culture enrich and speak to each other. Always leads with Jesus, “the inexhaustible source of personal and communal perfection.”

2) Uses faithfully Catholic materials, always wary of speakers, materials, and programs that deny Catholic teaching, promote division, blame one particular group or culture for all the ills of humanity, seek vengeance, or stifle free speech and religious freedom.

3) Relates discussions to a Catholic understanding of the human person through a clear and convincing Christian anthropology. Affirms human creation by God as male or female and the union of body and spirit, as well as the common humanity and destiny of all peoples as originating with God and part of His design.

4) Relates discussions to Catholic social teaching, including the dignity of all persons, the sacredness of human life, the sanctity of marriage and its importance to human society and human fraternity amid national, racial, ethnic, economic, gender, and ideological differences.

5) Helps students discover the religious dimension in human history. Compares the actions of peoples according to Catholic morality and virtues but also the level of development of a person or culture and the conditions, knowledge, and understanding of the time.

6) Teaches students to analyze the morality of human acts, including separating the sin and the sinner. Helps them properly attribute degrees of culpability based on individual awareness and freedom, not generalizations about group behaviors. Affirms the possibly of repentance and forgiveness.

7) Teaches logic and reason to uncover objective truth, especially when emotions run hot. Promotes dialogue not for its own sake, but as a means of pursuing truth and unity.

8) Teaches Catholic values and concepts of charity, forgiveness, mercy, justice, and the common good. Shuns sins of calumny, pride, detraction, and rash judgment. Carefully selects music, art, movies, and literature to develop empathy, helping students enter into another’s suffering without directly experiencing it.

9) Avoids compounding tension and division, especially by the use of loaded language. Avoids politically charged terms and symbols that lack nuance, have distinct meanings for different people, promote an “all in” approach to complex social flashpoints, or emphasize conflict or political power. Carefully defines terms within a Catholic context and vocabulary.

10) Avoids replacing academic pursuits with activism and allowing curricula to be driven by the news cycle. Does not force students into protests, compel them to identify with morally ranked categories, or require activities to make them feel the pain of discrimination.

Statement from the Cardinal Newman Society on 7th Circuit Ruling in Demkovich v. St. Andrew the Apostle Paris

In a very important victory today for religious freedom, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 7-3 in Demkovich v. St. Andrew the Apostle Parish (July 9, 2021) that the ministerial exception bars “hostile work environment” claims.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet ruled directly on this point, so the 7th Circuit’s decision is extremely important to Catholic educators and other religious employers.

“This ruling protects faithful Catholic educators and other religious employers from at least some lawsuits, which is especially helpful given the relentless drive to redefine sex discrimination as prohibiting Catholic beliefs about sex, gender and marriage,” said Patrick Reilly, President of The Cardinal Newman Society. “The ministerial exception helps preserve the authentic mission of Catholic educators and all religious organizations.”

The Cardinal Newman Society is excited to have played an important role in the case, filing an amicus brief last October that was prepared by Christian Poland of the Chicago firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP and John Bursch and Rory Gray of Alliance Defending Freedom. The brief helped persuade the full 7th Circuit Court to reconsider and overturn a dangerous 2-1 decision by a panel of the court’s judges, which would have allowed employees fired for moral reasons to work around the ministerial exception by claiming a “hostile workplace” instead of directly challenging their firing.

Today’s ruling comes almost exactly one year after the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Agnes Morrissey-Berru (July 8, 2020), which found that the ministerial exception includes Catholic school religion teachers. The Supreme Court protected Catholic schools and colleges from at least some discrimination lawsuits based on conflicts with Catholic moral teaching, but the 7th Circuit panel ruling would have greatly undermined the authority of religious schools, colleges and other organizations over ministerial employees.

The panel decision could have put Catholic education in an “untenable position,” the Newman Society warned in our amicus brief:

“A Catholic school has freedom to hire and fire ministers based on alignment with the Catholic Church’s religious teachings about sex, sexual orientation, and marriage. But if a Catholic school minister engages in a course of conduct that violates the Catholic Church’s teachings, and the school persistently communicates that the minister has strayed from the school’s moral expectations and should repent, the school can now be forced to endure a secular trial.”

The full 7th Circuit Court’s ruling strongly rejects the panel’s opinion and reaffirms the rights of religious employers with regard to ministerial employees.

A Crucial Line of Defense for Catholic Education

Catholic education could face severe hardships should the religious protection that is built into Title IX — the federal law banning sex discrimination — be taken away. And that is exactly what some activists and the Biden administration hopeto do.

The Administration and some federal courts now interpret Title IX as a ban on teaching and upholding authentic gender, sexuality and marriage. But since the law was first enacted in 1972, Title IX has exempted religious schools and colleges from any application of the law that conflicts with their religious beliefs. Predictably, LGBT activists are now striving to undo that exemption.

For Catholics, it should be a top priority to hold that line. It doesn’t mean that we should focus only on exempting religion from bad laws while our culture collapses. But ultimately winning the culture war requires that we form young people in faith, reason and wisdom — all of which are in short supply today. I see no path to a renewal of the Church and culture without a renewal of faithful Catholic education.

We must carve out protection for Catholic education if we are ever to win the larger battle. If the religious exemption to Title IX falls, Catholic schools and colleges will probably fall also, and even Catholic homeschooling may be targeted. That’s because the impact will be felt far beyond restrictions on federal money for education, which is the trigger that subjects an institution to Title IX. Even more, a collapse of the Title IX religious exemption is likely to cascade into anti-Catholic bigotry in state law, accreditation, academic associations, athletic leagues, etc., until there is minimal tolerance for any form of truly Catholic education.

 

Lawsuits target exemption

Among the threats to the Title IX religious exemption are two lawsuits which are unlikely to succeed — but if they do, the consequences could be devastating.

One of the lawsuits seeks to exploit a narrow interpretation of the Title IX exemption itself. The exemption states that Title IX “shall not apply to an educational institution which is controlled by a religious organization, if the application of this subsection would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.”

Two students who were expelled from Fuller Theological Seminary for violating rules against same-sex unions have asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to deny the seminary access to the Title IX exemption, because Fuller is nondenominational and independent of any organized religion. This, they argue, is not within the scope of institutions that are “controlled by a religious organization.”

The danger to Catholic education is enormous, should this argument prevail. Most Catholic colleges and many lay-established Catholic schools in the U.S. are not legally owned by the Church. They have independent boards of trustees that legally control the institutions. If the Title IX exemption is interpreted to exclude such independent operations, many of our Catholic schools and colleges as well as America’s nondenominational Christian institutions would no longer be protected.

Just last month, the Cardinal Newman Society and a number of faithful Catholic schools and colleges joined an amicus brief urging the Ninth Circuit to acknowledge that an institution controlled by a board of trustees that is committed to certain religious beliefs is, in fact, “controlled by a religious organization” for the purposes of Title IX. That is precisely how the U.S. Department of Education has always interpreted the exemption. The regulations implementing Title IX exempt any “educational institution [that] has a published institutional mission that is approved by the governing body of an educational institution and that includes, refers to, or is predicated upon religious tenets, beliefs, or teachings.”

But there’s another lawsuit that takes aim at the entire Title IX exemption. A group of students and alumni from various Christian colleges have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education, calling for the religious exemption in Title IX to be struck down as unconstitutional because, by protecting religious institutions, it creates an “establishment of religion.” This contradicts longstanding practice of the Education Department and religious exemptions throughout federal law.

 

Stand firm

If the religious exemption to Title IX were struck down, Catholic schools and colleges could be forced to give up federal aid and, much worse, face a growing number of legal and social obstacles that could render Catholic educators unable to promote and educate their students in the eternal truths of the Church, both moral and academic.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is pursuing an end run around the Title IX exemption that could have similar consequences. By promoting the Equality Act — which was approved in the House and has been introduced in the Senate — the Administration has pinned its hopes on expanding the definition of discrimination under the separate Title VI and thereby opening the door to lawsuits and restrictions against religious education.

Catholic schools should be prepared to defend against these ever evolving and worrisome attacks on religious freedom. Courts have historically turned a kinder eye to institutions that maintain a sincere and consistent adherence to their professed moral beliefs. The best defense against these attacks, then, is for Catholic schools and colleges to consistently uphold the truths of the Church in their teaching, policies and activities.

The Church is used to weathering attacks. It has endured far worse than agenda-driven activists and lawyers seeking to overturn U.S. civil rights law. And recent court victories for religious freedom offer hope that the latest attacks will fail. But the attacks are worrisome nonetheless because of their direct opposition to religious freedom, and if they succeed, they could hurt thousands of Catholic families.

This article first appeared at the National Catholic Register.

Catholic College Graduate Launches Online Film Camp for High School Students

Tara Stone

“The Church has long realized that art speaks to the human soul in a uniquely powerful way,” says Tara Stone, a graduate of John Paul the Great Catholic University in Escondido, Calif., who has launched an online film camp this summer for high school students that offers college credit through JPCatholic. She believes it’s important for young Catholics to be involved in the arts and create “well-crafted stories in film and television” that reflect “goodness, truth and beauty.”

The Newman Society recently asked Stone to share about her experience at Newman Guide recommended John Paul the Great Catholic University in Escondido, Calif., and about her offerings for high school students this summer, as a part of “Profiles in Faithful Catholic Education” series.

Newman Society: What was your experience like at John Paul the Great Catholic University, and how has it impacted your career and life?

Tara Stone: My experience as a student at John Paul the Great Catholic University was unique in a lot of ways. The university was still very small and very new when I was a student—I graduated with about 20 other students, and we were only the third class to graduate. My experience was also unique in that I was 23 years old when I started my freshman year. I had spent several years at a much larger, secular university and ultimately decided not to transfer any credits when I enrolled at JPCatholic. I wanted to begin with a clean slate.

Having taken other college courses, which shaped my expectations, I was admittedly impressed with the academic rigor of my JPCatholic courses—not so much because the content was difficult to grasp or the concepts particularly complex, but because the hands-on nature of filmmaking requires an enormous amount of time and effort and practice to learn and do well.

The three years of my undergrad were three of the busiest years of my life, and they prepared me well for working in the industry. My senior year was especially helpful in launching my career: I pitched the idea to my professors that instead of several small senior projects, our entire class could collaborate on a single feature film. My professors gave me the green light to write the script, and by the end of our senior year, we had shot the entire thing. Eventually, the film, Red Line, received distribution on DVD and VOD. Having that feature film credit on my resume has been invaluable, and I’ve been able to find work in the industry ever since.

Apart from the academic/professional impact, JPCatholic also shaped my faith journey in a really important way. I’m a cradle Catholic, and I was already serious about my faith when I started at JPCatholic—that was part of the reason I chose to go there and start over on my undergrad degree—but while I was a student there, I developed the habit of going to daily Mass and daily adoration. Those habits were integral to my vocational discernment. A few years after I graduated from JPCatholic, I became a consecrated virgin living in the world.

Newman Society: How did the “Story Masters Film Academy,” which you run with two JPCatholic faculty members, come about? Can you tell us about your film camp for high school students this summer?

Tara Stone: At the beginning of 2020, I was working for a video production company that mostly made multimedia programs for the Air Force, though we did make a handful of documentaries as well. When the COVID pandemic shut everything down in March of 2020, the company’s owner told us all to work from home for the next couple weeks. A couple weeks turned into several months. Meanwhile, all the projects we had been working on were cancelled mid-contract.

With the abundant free time I suddenly had, I decided to self-publish two of my screenplays in paperback and e-book format. Both scripts are period genre films that aren’t being made anymore, so I didn’t (and still don’t) think they would ever be produced. But they are good, fun stories that I wanted to share with the world. At some point, I realized there could be potential to sell them as educational tools to film instructors—they could be used to demonstrate script formatting and story structure, or they could be used to practice practical production skills like scheduling and budgeting.

I reached out to Christopher Riley, who taught my screenwriting classes and still teaches at JPCatholic. He agreed that my scripts could be valuable educational tools, but during the course of our conversation, he suggested that I could seize on an even bigger business opportunity—an opportunity to provide online screenwriting classes to high school students and use my scripts as course materials. Not only that, but Chris wanted to be my business partner and write the curriculum. Shortly after our initial conversation, we roped Nathan Scoggins in to add directing courses to our offerings. Like Chris, Nathan was one of my professors at JPCatholic and still teaches there. Since all three of us have a connection to JPCatholic, partnering with JPCatholic seemed like a natural fit. And so, Story Masters courses are eligible for college credit through JPCatholic.

This summer, we will have our very first Summer Film Camp and Festival for high school students. The summer camp runs from June 14 through July 23. Students will be challenged to write and direct a short film in five weeks, and their final films will be showcased in the film festival during the last week. It’s all online, as all our courses are, but each week begins and ends with a live Zoom session with me, Chris, and Nathan to guide students through their projects.

Newman Society: Why do you think it’s important for young creative Catholics to develop their artistic gifts? Why do you think it’s important for the Church to be involved in the arts?

Tara Stone: Art has always been an important part of the Church’s work of evangelization and catechesis. The Church has long realized that art speaks to the human soul in a uniquely powerful way.

Right now, film and television are being dominated by a culture that is deeply confused and, in many ways, morally depraved. And now, especially in the last year of being in various stages of lockdown, people are consuming unbelievable amounts of media. The human soul naturally craves goodness, truth, and beauty, which is why we are drawn to well-crafted stories in film and television. Unfortunately, much of what’s on offer today are merely counterfeits of goodness, truth, and beauty. If young Catholic artists don’t step up and create, the counterfeits will fill the void.

In my own life, I’ve often related my responsibility as a writer to the Parable of the Talents: God gave me some measure of talent as a writer, and I have an obligation to develop that gift and make it work for God’s Kingdom. Otherwise, I’m like the servant who buries his talent in the ground, and that servant’s story doesn’t end well. I would much rather hear at the end of my days, “Well done, good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your master.”

‘Fulton’ Ruling Teaches Important Lesson to Catholic Educators

A leading attorney for the defense of religious freedom says Catholic educators can learn an important lesson from the Supreme Court’s recent Fulton ruling, which allowed Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to uphold its faithfully Catholic practices. The lesson: Have courage and stand firm in the Faith.

Like Catholic social and medical services, Catholic education faces growing threats from the Biden administration and many states and localities because of Catholic beliefs about the sanctity of life, the human person and marriage. While educators may be tempted to compromise on programs like women’s athletics or on policies like moral standards for teachers, doing so violates the very mission of Catholic education, and there is no escaping confrontation with gender ideology. The best legal protection is to be consistently and firmly committed to the Catholic faith.

“As Fulton shows, religious freedom is stronger when Catholic apostolates are standing in a long historical tradition and have the courage of their convictions,” says Eric Kniffin, legal adviser to The Cardinal Newman Society and attorney with Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP. He also worked previously for the Becket Fund and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

“On the contrary,” he warns, “if Catholic schools disregard their calling and lose their saltiness, they will have a much harder time convincing students, parents and judges that they need religious accommodations.”

The Court’s June 17 ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia protects the right of Catholic Social Services to continue receiving City of Philadelphia funding, without yielding to the City’s demand that it place children for foster care with same-sex couples. The Court’s deference to Catholic Social Services’ mission and beliefs, says Kniffin, is heartening given the Biden administration’s efforts to impose broad accommodations for homosexuality and transgender behavior in schools and colleges by twisting the nondiscrimination provisions of the federal Title IX education law.

Last Wednesday, the Biden administration released a “Dear Educator” letter insisting that “Title IX’s protection against sex discrimination encompasses discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” despite the fact that Congress never intended the law to have such a meaning. On Monday, the Court declined to consider a Virginia school board’s appeal to preserve the privacy of boys’ and girls’ bathrooms, leaving educators vulnerable to the Administration’s gender ideology.

The Education Department’s letter last week indicated that it expects schools and colleges to allow students to choose athletic teams based on their stated “gender identity” and give them access to the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. Moreover, the Department indicated that it would mandate what educators can believe and teach about sex, warning against a scenario in which “the teacher tells the class that there are only boys and girls and anyone who thinks otherwise has something wrong with them.”

Good for education

But the Fulton decision offers some hope of protection for religious education, to the extent that the Supreme Court respected Catholics’ right to uphold fundamental truths about human nature and sexuality.

“One of the most important victories for the Catholic Church in Fulton is that the Supreme Court voted unanimously in favor of a religious entity that believes that ‘marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman,’” Kniffin says. “Some on the left have argued that such a statement is akin to racial bigotry. The Court’s unanimous decision is a strong repudiation of that analogy.”

Instead, the Court remained consistent with its Obergefell ruling in 2015, which said, “Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.”

In his majority opinion in Fulton, Chief Justice John Roberts took notice of the Catholic Church’s long history of serving children as an extension of its religious exercise, not apart from it. Catholic education is no different. This was a point that Kniffin made in the amicus brief he authored last year for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.

“This history was important in the Fulton case, because the City and its allies claimed that foster care has now become a ‘public service,’ which means that the contracts at issue here had no more religious significance than contracts for ‘road maintenance,’” Kniffin explains. His brief for the USCCB noted that the Court had already rejected this line of argument with respect to Catholic education in the 2012 Hosanna-Tabor ruling, which affirmed the ministerial exception for certain Catholic school teachers. In that case, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made the outrageous argument that the First Amendment does not apply to Catholic schools providing a “socially beneficial service … in compliance with State compulsory education laws.”

Just as Hosanna-Tabor helped the Archdiocese of Philadelphia make its case, the Fulton ruling gives Catholic education an even stronger argument for religious freedom, Kniffin says. “While caring for orphans falls under the corporal works of mercy, the work of Catholic schools falls under the spiritual works of mercy. When carried out as the Catholic Church intends … Catholic schools are carrying out a core religious exercise.”

On the other hand, the Fulton ruling is also a reminder of how fragile such rights can be in today’s secular society. Although the Supreme Court had the opportunity with this case to overturn its 1990 ruling in Employment Services v. Smith, it avoided the issue, thereby allowing states and cities like Philadelphia to attempt further discrimination against Catholic organizations as long as their laws and rules are generally applicable without exceptions. Catholic Social Services may soon have to return to court to protect its foster care services and force a review of Smith— or that review might occur because of a case involving Catholic education, which faces challenges with licensing, school choice funding, accreditation, participation in athletic conferences and other state and local attempts to impose gender ideology despite Catholic beliefs.

“The good news is that five justices in Fulton said that they believe that the Free Exercise Clause protects more religious liberty than the Smith decision might indicate,” Kniffin says. “Hopefully, this consensus will help dissuade government from even stronger efforts to force Catholic schools to abandon their convictions on matters of sexual morality and the human person. But if they do, the Court seems poised to protect the First Amendment right to free exercise.”

As for federal programs like college student loans and aid for textbooks and busing, Catholic education is protected by the religious exemption in Title IX — except that the Biden administration wants to maneuver around that exemption with the harmful Equality Act. Activists are also attempting to dismantle the Title IX exemption in court. To counter their arguments, the Cardinal Newman Society recently joined an amicus brief with the Christian Legal Society, several groups representing various religious beliefs, and Catholic schools and colleges that are recognized by the Newman Society for their faithful education.

By standing firm and refusing to yield our religious freedom, Catholic educators can hopefully continue to win in court. Moreover, the formation that Catholic education provides young people — if it remains consistently faithful to the teachings of the Church — can eventually renew society and restore respect for truth.

This article first appeared at the National Catholic Register.

catholic education

Catholic Curriculum Standards: Faithful to the Core

When Jill Annable began her role as assistant superintendent in the Diocese of Grand Rapids, the staff was working on rewriting its curriculum standards for all subject areas and all grades, to try to integrate Catholic identity across all content areas.

Educators who have worked on school standards know that it’s no small task. Fortunately for Annable and the Diocese of Grand Rapids, timely help provided just what they needed.

“We were drafting and drafting,” Annable recalled in a recent podcast produced by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), where she now serves as the executive director of academic excellence. She remembers when her superintendent walked into her office and excitedly shared, “It was published, you can use it!” She meant the Catholic Curriculum Standards, which had just been released by The Cardinal Newman Society.

“When I opened it up, I realized that it was the missing piece,” Annable told Dr. Denise Donohue, the Newman Society’s deputy director of K-12 programs, who was also a guest on the podcast. “It was the language I needed to use without trying to invent it ourselves.”

The Diocese of Grand Rapids isn’t the only diocese to find our Catholic Curriculum Standards helpful.

“Since, in every school, the curriculum carries the mission, these Catholic Curriculum Standards are an invaluable contribution to Catholic schools everywhere,” says Father John Belmonte, S.J., superintendent of the Diocese of Venice.

“Catholic schools have benefited from the standards-based reform movement in education with one notable exception: the absence of rigorous standards rooted and grounded in our Catholic tradition,” Fr. Belmonte continues. “Implementation of the Catholic Curriculum Standards will provide a renewed sense of mission for our Catholic schools operating within the increasingly secularized world of education today.”

Today, at least 28 diocesan school systems and many other Catholic schools across the United States—serving more than 270,000 students—use the Catholic Curriculum Standards to replace or supplement their existing diocesan standards.

Common Core concerns 

Over the last decade, many public and Catholic schools across the country have adopted the Common Core State Standards. But the Common Core is a secular program designed with utilitarian goals—to lift up under-achieving public school students for success in college and careers. Aside from disagreements about its embrace of controversial methods and educational theories, the Common Core was never intended for the fullness of human flourishing that the Church demands of Catholic education.

Giving voice to the concerns of many Catholic families, the Newman Society’s “Catholic Is Our Core” program has informed Catholic educators about shortcomings of the Common Core. It began with a campaign by mail, email, social media and web outreach to educate Catholic families, leaders and educators and to urge Catholic schools to reject or at least radically adapt the Common Core standards to the mission of Catholic education. Our analyses have been featured in national Catholic publications and on Catholic radio and television.

In 2013, consistent with many of the Newman Society’s concerns, a cadre of Catholic college professors (132 altogether) signed a joint letter stating they were “convinced that Common Core is so deeply flawed that it should not be adopted by Catholic schools” and that those who had adopted it “should seek an orderly withdrawal.” The following year, the education office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement warning that the Common Core standards alone are insufficient for Catholic schools.

Today it is clear that the Common Core has failed to produce the promised improvements in both public and Catholic schools, and states and dioceses are pulling back from the misguided standards. What now should replace them? The Common Core experience, though messy, helped spark widespread interest among Catholic bishops, educators and families for something better. It is toward that goal that the Newman Society’s staff turned, striving for a uniquely Catholic set of standards.

Providing a solution 

In 2015, the Newman Society resolved to answer a question posed by several bishops and diocesan superintendents: “If Catholic education is distinct from secular education, then where are the standards for Catholic educators?”

Our response is the Catholic Curriculum Standards, rooted firmly in the Church’s teaching on Catholic education and her long tradition of liberal arts formation in truth, goodness and beauty.

“The first time I read them, I thought this isn’t the ‘Catholic Common Core.’ This is the why and the how, and gives the beauty to why we teach math, why we inquire in science. You wouldn’t just slap these standards on top of Common Core,” said Annable.

The standards specifically cover the core subjects of English, history, scientific topics and mathematics, but Annable says her diocese was able to apply the standards to elective courses as well, which she says was a “true gift.”

Developing the Catholic Curriculum Standards was a labor of love. The Newman Society staff spent two years analyzing Church documents to identify key elements the Church expects to find in all Catholic schools. Those were distilled into the Newman Society’s Principles of Catholic Identity in Education, which are similar to Archbishop Michael Miller’s “essential marks of Catholic schools,” but capturing more of the language and balance of Vatican documents.

For the standards project, the Newman Society’s Dr. Dan Guernsey and Dr. Denise Donohue studied these Principles, Church documents, scholarly works related to Catholic education and the Catholic intellectual tradition, and books articulating the nature of liberal arts and classical education. They also met with more than a dozen professors from faithful Catholic colleges to consider what knowledge and formation one should expect from a Catholic school graduate.

A Catholic foundation 

The Catholic Curriculum Standards include “dispositional” standards for each academic discipline, along with expected “content” or “intellectual” standards.

As Guernsey and Donohue were reviewing Church documents for curricular application, they noticed much discussion about the formation of dispositions within students. That topic was much more prominent than concerns about course content. For example:

The Catholic school aims at forming in the Christian those particular virtues which will enable him to live a new life in Christ and help him to play faithfully his part in building up the Kingdom of God. (The Catholic School, 1977, 36)

Creating the dispositional standards has proven beneficial for Catholic schools needing to address the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools (NSBECS) for accreditation purposes. Schools using the Catholic Curriculum Standards, along with a solid virtue program, are able to address numerous benchmarks required for accreditation.

For the mathematics standards, the Catholic perspective is primarily dispositional. The Catholic Curriculum Standards expect students to identify truth and falsehood in relationships and to acquire the mental habits of “precise, determined, careful and accurate questioning, inquiry and reasoning.”

Examples of English literature standards include, “Explain how Christian and Western symbols and symbolism communicate the battle between good and evil and make reality visible” and “Demonstrate how literature is used to develop a religious, moral and social sense.” The English standards especially earned high praise from Sandra Stotsky, Ed.D., who is a national consultant in standards development and author of the highly regarded Massachusetts Academic Standards. She proved very helpful to the Newman Society’s work as well.

“The K-12 standards and suggested readings in Appendix C for the reading/literature curriculum in Catholic schools reflect more than the uniqueness of their intellectual tradition,” Stotsky said. “They also provide the academic rigor missing in most public-school English language arts curricula.”

Inspiring and crucial 

The impact of the Catholic Curriculum Standards over the past five years has been exciting.

“The Catholic Curriculum Standards are EXACTLY what I have been wanting—specific in the areas of faith formation and the pursuit of goodness, truth and beauty, but broad enough to give the teachers latitude in their instructional methods,” said Lynette Schmitz, the principal of St. John Paul II Preparatory School, a Catholic classical hybrid school in St. Louis, Mo.

Derek Tremblay, headmaster of Mount Royal Academy in Sunapee, N.H, agrees. “I thoroughly love the Standards that The Cardinal Newman Society has put out and have yet to find anything comparable.”

Another Catholic school principal, Janice Martinez, principal of Holy Child Catholic School in Tijeras, N.M., said: “I find the standards of education you have recently publicized to be inspiring. I believe the work you do is crucial and support your mission.”

Despite the great success of the Catholic Curriculum Standards, there’s much more work to be done. Standards help establish a school’s priorities and promote the right outcomes of truly faithful Catholic education. But curriculum standards alone can never determine what happens in the classroom.

We hope that the Catholic Curriculum Standards will promote greater integration of the faith in every academic discipline, leading eventually to new and improved textbooks, lesson plans, teacher training and school evaluation.

The complete Catholic Curriculum Standards are available to educators at no cost on the Newman Society’s website, together with helpful appendices and resources to support implementing the standards. Feel free to reach out to The Cardinal Newman Society if you are interested in knowing more about the standards and how they might be used in your diocese, school or homeschool program.

On Racism and Cancel Culture

Amid high racial, social and political tensions in America today, Catholic parents and educators are eager to teach students about race, gender, justice and human dignity. That’s a good thing.

But adopting divisive and ideologically driven innovations like “critical race theory,” “woke-ism,” “gender ideology” and the “cancel culture” is not the way of faithful Catholic education.

The Newman Society has studied these topics and published new guidance at our website to hep educators confront sins of racism, unjust discrimination and bullying while rejecting dangerous ideologies. Instead of adopting new and popular approaches to difficult topics, Catholic educators should rely on faithfully Catholic materials including the clear instruction in Vatican documents, U.S. bishops’ pastoral letters and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Critical race theory 

“Critical race theory (CRT) asserts that America’s legal framework is inherently racist and that race itself, instead of being biologically grounded and natural, is a socially constructed concept that is used by white people to further their economic and political interests at the expense of people of color,” explains Dr. Denise Donohue, the Newman Society’s vice president for educator resources, in her recent Catholic World Report article that summarizes a more substantial backgrounder on critical race theory published at the Newman Society website.

CRT rests on a view of society as oppressors and oppressed, with emphasis on imbalances of power instead of the inherent dignity of each individual and the complexities of a pluralistic society. Donohue’s backgrounder explains the development of CRT from “critical theory” and its foundation in Marxism, which the Church has rejected as a dangerous political ideology. CRT’s introduction in the classroom therefore manipulates education for political ends. The theory calls for dismantling and rebuilding American legal and social structures, and its critique of Western society sometimes charges the Church and Christian notions of God, marriage and gender as inherently racist.

“Students taught with critical race theory materials can become racists in the literal sense of the word: they may treat others (the perceived oppressor race) unfairly because of skin color or background,” Donohue warns. “Division into categories of good and bad based on skin color is a reversal of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and antithetical to a Catholic understanding of human dignity and equality.”

Cancel culture

Another concern is the “cancel culture,” which hastily labels even the most rational and sympathetic commentary on topics like gender and race as either “bigoted” or “leftist,” often with severe social consequences. In an increasingly secular society, Catholics are especially at risk of unfair judgment—even among fellow Catholics.

Catholic education must not fall into this trap.

“Authentic Catholic education does not cancel culture; it elevates, redeems and transmits culture,” writes senior fellow Dr. Dan Guernsey at The Catholic Thing. “It seeks out and celebrates truth, beauty and goodness, wherever they are found—and if they are missing, Catholic education points that out as well.”

Guernsey’s helpful list of things that Catholic educators can do to counter ideology and division (see the full list at TheCatholicThing.org) include:

  • Relate discussions to a Catholic understanding of the human person through a clear and convincing Christian anthropology, which affirms our creation by God as male or female and the union of our bodies and spirits, as well as our common humanity and destiny.
  • Teach students to analyze the morality of human acts (including separating the sin and the sinner), properly attribute degrees of culpability based on individual awareness and freedom, ascribe sin (in the proper sense) to individuals not groups, and affirm the possibility of repentance and forgiveness.
  • Help students discover the religious dimension in human history and compare the actions of peoples according to Catholic morality and virtues, but also according to the level of development of a person or culture and the impact of surrounding conditions, knowledge, and understanding of the time.

Bottom line: Catholic educators already teach authentic Catholic moral and social doctrine and Christian charity. By confidently teaching and witnessing to the Gospel, Catholic educators provide an outstanding education and formation for their students under every circumstance.

Reviving the lost art of reading in Catholic homes

My family has always had an assortment of books around the house for our children, and now for our grandchildren as well. Fond memories recur when I hear the grandchildren squeal with delight, as they explore the vast new worlds opening before them.

Inspired by his fourth-grade cousin, the rising first-grader reads anything within reach, especially “chapter books” and stories of saints. His parents patiently clarify the words that are not yet within his vocabulary.

His younger sister is exuberant when she realizes she can form letters into words, and words into sentences. Curious George is one of her bedtime favorites.

The vast new world, contained between the covers of a book, stimulates the imagination of these young readers as they are drawn more deeply to seek the truth, beauty, and goodness of the world in which they live.

Unfortunately, this joy of reading is absent from many homes today. Jean Twenge, an academic psychologist who studies the iPhone generation (iGens), recently told the Wall Street Journal that, “The percentage of high-school students who read books or other long-form content every day has dropped from 60 percent to 15 percent since the 1980s.” This is attributed to “short attention spans,” given today’s emphasis on social media and general internet surfing.

Continue reading at The Catholic World Report…