As I’ve watched the controversy swirl around football players kneeling during the national anthem, I was struck by the message of Educating Together in Catholic Schools (2007), the last Vatican document pertaining to Catholic education. As you might know, I’ve been immersing myself in Church documents to prepare for the Church Documents podcast series beginning on October 30th.
Since Vatican II, the documents mark the shift from Catholic school as institution to one of community. At the same time, Pope Francis has challenged us to become missionary disciples, evangelizing Catholics and non-Catholics alike. This has brought challenges to our concept to community. Do the mores and norms of the majority (often white, middle-class) dominate the school culture? Do our alumni—many of whom are prominent donors—shape the norms and mores? Frankly, many of our schools need to confront the fact that we celebrate minority athletes but believe they need to respect their place in the community. Majority rules, minorities follow, in other words.
Educating Together confronts this reality:
The implementation of a real educational community, built on the foundation of shared projected values, represents a serious task that must be carried out by the Catholic school. In this setting, the presence both of students and of teachers form different cultural and religious backgrounds requires an increased commitment of discernment and accompaniment. (paragraph 5)
In other words, when we admit students of different cultural and religious backgrounds, our community changes. It’s like the arrival of a child. If a daughter arrives in a family of sons, it changes the family. As our schools become more diverse, the culture will change. It is our job to accompany and discern those changes as we strive to educate and form young people.
Don’t know what I’m talking about? Here’s a quick rundown:
- Last week, Philly Catholic published a great summary of the controversy
- Diocese of Lansing sits four players who planned to protest during national anthem
- The Diocese of Camden announced last year that players who kneel during national anthem will be suspended
- The Diocese of Rockville Centre announced possible discipline for students who protest.
- New York Times article detailing bans in Rockville Centre and Louisiana
- The Diocese of Toledo announced a ban for their players who kneel.
- Bellarmine (CA) HS football players kneel during national anthem
Take a look at the reasoning behind the Camden Diocese’s position banning any protests:
Our schools are founded on the teaching of respect and honor; respect and honor for God, country and duly appointed authority. It is expected that our administration and coaches as well as our athletes will show respect during prayer, pledges and the playing or singing of the National Anthem. The best approach is helping our young people understand that blood was sacrificed so that we all can enjoy the gifts of our faith and our country. However, let me be clear. We are not public institutions and free speech in all of its demonstrations, including protests, is not a guaranteed right.
Notice the mention of the non-guaranteed right of free speech. This is a consistent theme in private school law. But just because something is permitted doesn’t make it right.
Educating Together explains the type of education that must take place in Catholic schools. “The Catholic school is committed to guiding its students to knowing themselves, their attitudes and their interior resources, educating them in spending their lives responsibly as a daily response to God’s call.” (Paragraph 40) We want our students to develop a response to God’s call in their lives. And we want them to have courage in their convictions. Vatican II calls us to dialogue—a theme supported by Pope Francis in Joy of the Gospel. When one of the students at Lansing Catholic was told he would be suspended if he protested, this is how he responded:
I get they are a private school and they can do what they want, Lynn III said. They are right, they can. But that doesn’t make it humane and that does not make it OK that they can do that because that still is my right to peaceful protest. Not only am I peaceful protesting, but I’m protesting as a primary source. I am a young black man in America. I’ve had to deal with certain things that other people will never have to deal with.
I said this in the meeting (with the school). I said this feels like oppression. This feels like you’re trying to silence me and it feels like you’re not giving me the right to do what Americans should be able to do.
Does that sound like someone who has heard “God’s call”? Does that sound like someone who has developed convictions? And has courage? We should be proud of this young man for this well-articulated set of beliefs. And read this statement from the student protesters at Bellarmine High (CA):
We have chosen to kneel for the national anthem tonight in an act of peaceful protest against injustice. The act of kneeling during the anthem originated with sitting and progressed to kneeling as a sign of respect for our flag, as suggested by former Green Beret, Nate Boyer.
As students of a Jesuit institution, we are taught to be men for and with others and to seek justice and truth. In light of our summit on understanding race in the 21st century, along with our personal experiences with discrimination both at Bellarmine and in our broader community, we feel compelled to raise awareness for the marginalized.
These student convictions might fly in the face of community norms. But they are well thought out, well-articulated, and they challenge us to become more inclusive school communities. Part of educating young people is expecting them to occasionally divert from the path we would have chosen for them. We are called to dialogue with them, to challenge them to articulate their beliefs, and encourage them when they have shaped beliefs out of response to God’s call in their lives.