The Cardinal Newman Society’s reporting in 2015 highlighted numerous issues — positive and negative — impacting faithful Catholic education in the U.S., and we expect many of these issues to continue trending into 2016.
In the past year, Newman Society reporters covered cultural and institutional threats to faithful Catholic education, including the U.S. Supreme Court marriage ruling, problems with Common Core, Planned Parenthood’s close ties to Catholic colleges, ongoing HHS mandate lawsuits threatening religious freedom and scandalous commencement speakers at Catholic colleges. Yet, many faithful Catholic colleges and schools have responded with vigor to the current challenges and demands of our modern society.
Classical education was on the rise, many schools and dioceses incorporated morality clauses to ensure stronger Catholic identity, the Synod on the Family reaffirmed parents as the primary educators of their children and numerous Catholic colleges and schools chose to steadfastly protect and defend their religious freedom and identity.
Below, in no particular order, are 10 important issues that we will be following in our news coverage throughout 2016:
1. Catholic Hiring Policies
Among the Newman Society’s “Top 15” most popular articles from 2015, issues dealing with same-sex marriage and human sexuality appeared most often. Catholic colleges embracing and celebrating same-sex unions — especially the ability to legally marry across the country following the Supreme Court's decision this past summer — are giving rise to scandal. And those Catholic colleges and schools trying to protect their Catholic identity are being hit with charges of “discrimination.”
In San Francisco last year, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone was opposed by faculty and dissident Catholic groups when he asked diocesan teachers to witness to the Catholic faith inside and outside of the classroom. Similarly, Catholic schools in several other states faced difficult staffing decisions impacting their religious freedom and Catholic identity, such as in Georgia, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. As the full effect of the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling and federal discrimination policies continues to unfold, Catholic schools and colleges will continue to face teacher contract and hiring policy issues in 2016 and beyond.
2. Common Core
The Cardinal Newman Society released two new reports in 2015 marking the five-year anniversary of the Common Core State Standards that highlighted the potential harm for Catholic schools posed by implementation of the standards. Administrators from faithful Catholic schools reported that the standards pose a significant conflict to Catholic curricula.
Following the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) announcement that Common Core architect David Coleman will keynote the association’s annual convention in March 2016, we reached out for an exclusive interview with him to discuss the concerns Catholic families have with Common Core and the changes being made to the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) that Coleman is overseeing as president of The College Board.
Coleman supports the Common Core in public schools and disagreed with some of our concerns about its place in Catholic schools — and on that we must continue to disagree. But his comments actually reinforced our consistent position that Catholic schools must have non-negotiable standards of Catholic identity and should emphasize the liberal arts. Schools should not compromise those standards for any reason, whether it is societal pressure or sweeping school reforms.
Debates over the implementation of Common Core Standards and their effect on Catholic education are sure to continue this year.
3. Classical Catholic Education on the Rise
A return to classical models of education is growing in popularity in Catholic schools and home schooling programs across the country. The Newman Society has reported on an increasing demand for classical education, which focuses on the Trivium, inculcating grammar, rhetoric and logic from a young age.
Concerns for the soundness of Common Core State Standards are in some ways responsible for renewed interest in classical education. For parents who have doubts regarding the utilitarian inclinations of Common Core, classical education presents a desirable antithesis with its inclusion of philosophy, theology and classic literature.
Leaders of successful classical schools have spoken of the need for deeper moral and intellectual formation. The same is true for families choosing to home school. More Catholic families are looking to classical education as hope for the future of faithful Catholic education.
4. Pope Francis to Issue Document on Family and Education
Much of the media attention during the Synod on the Family in Rome this past October focused on controversial issues such as communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. However, the Newman Society reported on the Synod’s particular attention to the growing threat of gender ideology in schools and within the family, as well as the relationship between families and Catholic schools.
The Synod’s final document reaffirmed parents as the primary educators of their children, and a further document, which would explore this responsibility, is expected from Pope Francis sometime this year.
We’ll be looking to see if mentions of Catholic education in the document will reflect the essential, educative role of parents, and if the Holy Father will reiterate the importance of Church documents such as Gravissimum Educationis and Ex corde Ecclesiae.
5. Next Steps in HHS Mandate Cases
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling this year in the lawsuit by the Little Sister of the Poor challenging the HHS contraception mandate under Obamacare. This ruling will be of great importance to many Catholic colleges, which like the Sisters are participants in a unique Catholic healthcare trust that lies at the center of the case.
At least 22 Catholic schools, including two on the Newman Society’s Catholic Education Honor Roll, and 11 Catholic colleges, including eight Newman Guide-recommended colleges, have filed suits challenging the Obama administration’s HHS mandate. Depending on the ruling, Catholic colleges and schools could be forcefully required to offer coverage of sterilization and contraceptives, including some that cause abortion, in employee health plans.
It is not yet clear which way the Supreme Court will vote in this matter, but the ruling, whether in favor or against, will have a major impact on Catholic education in 2016.
6. Anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments
The Supreme Court will also have the opportunity to overturn “a relic of 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry” found in 37 state constitutions if it chooses to hear a school choice case involving Colorado’s discriminatory Blaine Amendment. Blaine Amendments, which emerged from attempts to amend the U.S. Constitution and prohibit the use of taxpayer funding for “sectarian” schools, are now being used to block funds and scholarships to families who want to send their children to any religious private schools.
A Colorado Supreme Court ruling in 2015 used Blaine Amendment language in the state constitution to block scholarship funds to families who wanted to send their children to religious schools under a new school choice program. Three petitions were submitted in October 2015 asking the U.S. Supreme Court to decide on the constitutionality of Colorado’s Blaine Amendment and the school choice scholarship program in the state. A number of court cases challenging state Blaine Amendments are also active across the country.
These provisions have a clear anti-Catholic history, and will continue to threaten school choice and religious freedom in 2016.
7. Impact of Newman Guide College Alumni
Thousands of men and women who have impacted the culture and the Church are graduates of faithful Catholic colleges recommended in the The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College. Many leaders in evangelization, Scripture, the pro-life movement and more can be traced back to colleges with a strong Catholic identity.
What impact could we see from the first classes of the young Catholic colleges founded in the last 20 years? Many of these colleges are currently watching their alumni become the next culture-changing wave of influential Catholic men and women.
Including teachers, religious sisters, filmmakers, priests, monks, doctors, architects and married couples, among others, alumni of Newman Guide colleges are carrying their Catholic faith into the world, and the Newman Society anticipates continued reporting on their impact in 2016.
8. Transgender Issues on Campus
Gender theory is becoming more prevalent in Catholic schools and colleges across the country, and the Newman Society reported multiple instances of colleges implementing “gender inclusive” policies in 2015. Gender-neutral restroom policies — which remove traditional “male” and “female” signs to make restrooms unisex spaces — are a rapidly growing initiative at many Catholic colleges. Gender-neutral restrooms have been implemented, or are being considered, at Fordham University, Loyola University Chicago, Marquette University, St. Joseph’s University and more.
In some cases, gender theory has gone beyond restroom signs. At DePaul University, a new policy was recently proposed that allows students to choose their preferred gender on university records. Colleges have hosted events and workshops which actively promote gender theory, despite the obvious conflict to Church teaching on human sexuality. And on many Catholic campuses, activities directed at gender theory seem to be given more priority, even over the sanctity of life.
This issue has not gone unnoticed by Church leadership. Pope Francis has commented on the danger that gender ideology presents to young people and concerns for widespread “gender ideology” indoctrination in schools were discussed at the recent Synod on the Family in Rome.
9. NLRB Exposing Catholic Identity Concerns
The number of Catholic colleges challenging the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) continues to grow. The problems with this trend are twofold: One, the NLRB is exercising unconstitutional government oversight in attempting to determine whether or not a college is sufficiently Catholic; and two, the test applied to the colleges is exposing major Catholic identity concerns. Colleges opposing NLRB rulings now include Carroll College, Duquesne University, Manhattan College, Saint Xavier University, Seattle University and Loyola University Chicago.
In the Newman Society’s amicus brief opposing the NLRB harassment, attorneys for Alliance Defending Freedom stated:
Religious organizations have the right of autonomy over their internal governance, the right to be treated the same as all other religious groups and denominations by the government, and the right to be free from government meddling and intrusion in their operations and beliefs.
10. Colleges Revisit Core Curriculum
Following the 25th anniversary of Ex corde Ecclesiae last year, discussion of Catholic colleges utilizing the mandatum and Oath of Fidelity to ensure stronger Catholic identity resurfaced. Additionally, many critics lamented the state of major Catholic universities and colleges which they saw as striving for secular standards at the cost of a strong Catholic identity and faithful standards of excellence.
Particular criticism was levied against the lack or potential loss of theology courses in the curriculum. While the ten-year review committee at the University of Notre Dame recently insisted that its two required theology courses are critical to its Catholic identity, curriculum changes at other major Catholic colleges and universities could carry over.
With record enrollments at many Newman Guide-recommended colleges that emphasize a strong core curriculum, especially a deep foundation in philosophy, theology and Church teaching, we anticipate curriculum discussion to be a major topic in 2016.
Justin Petrisek and Kimberly Scharfenberger are communications assistants at The Cardinal Newman Society.
Adam Cassandra is the editor of news operations at The Cardinal Newman Society.
Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.