The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: (202) 466-3234,Joe Conn,Rob Boston,Sandhya Bathija

NYC Must Obey Church-State Rules When Converting Catholic Schools to Charter Schools, Says Americans United

Watchdog Group Advises Mayor, Brooklyn Bishop to Keep Religion out of Potential New Charter Schools


Americans United for Separation of Church and State today advised New York City officials and Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio to abide by constitutional requirements when converting four Catholic schools in Brooklyn to charter schools.

Fourteen Catholic schools in Brooklyn and Queens are scheduled to close this year. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other city officials are considering leasing some of the buildings and converting the schools into public charter schools.

If this proposal is carried out, the new charter schools would be barred from offering religious instruction or worship and be required to cover all religious symbols inside the school.

In addition, Americans United noted in a letter today that several additional requirements would also apply:

  • Prayer could not be incorporated into school instruction or activities;

  • Curricula could not be tailored to the principles of Catholicism, meaning the Diocese cannot control or influence whether the school teaches evolution or sex education;

  • Religious symbols must be covered or removed both inside and outside;

  • The schools cannot give preferential after-school access to religious groups over nonreligious groups.

"It's imperative that city officials meet these constitutional requirements if this proposal goes through," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Charter schools, just like public schools, must comply with the Constitution."

Americans United's letter was prepared by Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, Assistant Legal Director Richard B. Katskee and Staff Attorney Ian Smith.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.