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LI diocese clarifies position against kneeling at high school events

Holy Trinity Diocesan High School in Hicksville in

Holy Trinity Diocesan High School in Hicksville in an undated photo. Credit: Holy Trinity Diocesan High School

The Diocese of Rockville Centre on Friday sought to clarify its position on prohibiting students and spectators from kneeling or otherwise protesting during the national anthem at sports games and other events at its three diocesan high schools.

Diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan, in a statement, repeated some of the explanations the diocese gave on Thursday — that the prohibition against kneeling during the anthem is long-standing school policy. He also addressed the issue of racism, citing Bishop John Barres’ words after violence broke out during an Aug. 12 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“The Diocese understands that some of the demonstrations during the National Anthem nationwide are intended to be a protest against racism and racial discrimination,” Dolan’s statement said. “Catholic teaching leaves no doubt on these issues. As Bishop Barres stated in his August 14th statement on the violence in Charlottesville, racism is a sin that also constitutes a fundamental heresy because it directly contradicts the Christian understanding of the Sacrament of Baptism.

“Although the Diocese does not agree that demonstrations are appropriate in its schools during the playing of the National Anthem — which recognizes the tremendous sacrifices of Americans of all races, ethnicities and religions — it notes that students who seek to challenge racism and racial discrimination are firmly in accord with Catholic teaching.”

On Thursday, Dolan said that at Barres’ instruction, the diocese had sent a directive to its three diocesan high schools this week, reminding them of the policy against protests during the anthem. Anyone violating the policy could face “serious disciplinary action,” the directive said.

The three high schools — St. John the Baptist in West Islip, Holy Trinity in Hicksville and Bishop McGann-Mercy in Riverhead — are directly controlled by the diocese.

On Friday, some of the other seven Catholic high schools on Long Island said they follow the same policy. They include Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale and St. Dominic’s in Oyster Bay. Those schools are run either by religious orders, such as the Marianist brothers at Kellenberg, or by local parishes, such as St. Dominic’s.

The diocese’s directive issued on Thursday attracted widespread media coverage.

The kneeling issue has provoked a huge national debate, as scores of NFL players have “taken a knee” during the anthem before games to protest police killings of unarmed black people and other racial and social injustices. The latest actions were in response to President Donald Trump, who last week called for players who protest during the anthem to be “fired.”

Dolan’s Friday statement said the diocese had been asked whether the policy at its high schools had anything to do with the controversy over kneeling by NFL players during the anthem.“It does not — the policy is of long standing — and the Diocese and its schools take no position on that controversy or the subsequent national political debate over it,” the statement said.

He also said the diocese “is home to many people who are sensitive to racial injustice. In addition, many of our schools have children whose relatives were directly affected in some way by the tragic events of September 11, 2001.”

The terrorist attacks “forever changed who we are, and while not the only reason to stand for the national anthem it is a significant reason,” Dolan said. “We the People of God of the Diocese of Rockville Centre should continue to honor the sacrifices that countless people from Long Island have made during this time of tragedy. Accordingly, while the Diocese will not permit demonstrations during the playing of the National Anthem, it calls on all people to reject all forms of racism and racial discrimination.”

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