The Catholic Thing
NY’s Nanny State: Denying Religious and Personal Liberties Print E-mail
By George J. Marlin   
Wednesday, 18 April 2012


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In 1993, I ran for mayor of New York City as the nominee of N.Y.’s Conservative and Right-to-Life Parties against the Democratic incumbent, Mayor David Dinkins and the Republican-Liberal candidate Rudy Giuliani. 

In that campaign, I championed the principle of subsidiarity and vigorously opposed the city’s social engineering agenda, clearly designed to eradicate the influence of Judeo-Christian principles on public policies.

I was particularly outspoken against the imposition of ideologically driven policies and practices that denied parents the right to decide what was best for their children. Hence, I called for the elimination of the revised kindergarten to sixth grade “HIV/AIDS Curriculum” and the “Children of the Rainbow Curriculum.”

The AIDS curriculum very graphically informed elementary children how to have safe sex and the “multicultural” Rainbow Curriculum described homosexuals as a normal cultural group. But it had nothing to say, of course, about Judaeo-Christian cultural norms. 

The Rainbow Curriculum’s bibliography included the now famous books Heather Has Two Mommies, Daddy's Roommate, and Rapunzel’s Revenge: Fairytales for Feminists.

In the years since I lost that election, state and city bureaucrats have continued to expand their reach into every home and church. New York has become the poster child for the intrusive Nanny State dedicated to stripping its citizenry of their liberties and denying them the right to make decisions for themselves.

In recent years, city legislation has been crafted to ban trans fats, foie gras, candy-flavored cigarettes, aluminum baseball bats, and new fast food restaurants in poor neighborhoods. 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has also promoted laws that ban salt. Bloomberg compared salt to asbestos in schools. “Salt and asbestos, clearly both are bad for you,” he has said. The mayor has also requested the U.S. Department of Agriculture to forbid food stamp recipients from purchasing sugared soft drinks.


New York’s state legislature has also tried to inflict restrictions on New Yorkers including:

  • A law that requires nutritional labels on restaurant menus;
  • A law that orders schools to measure the fat of public school students;
  • A law that imposes a “fat tax” on junk food;
  • A law to prohibit use of any kind of cell phone in an automobile.

There have also been egregious laws implemented and policies pursued to force churches and their members to adhere to Nanny State elites’ visions of a wholesome society.

For instance, in March 2001, a bill, which eliminated the “refusal clause” and forced religious educational, health, and human service ministries to include birth control in health care coverage for their employees was signed into law by a baptized Catholic, Governor George Pataki. 

The law was blasted by New York City’s then Cardinal Edward Egan as “un-American” and it was condemned by the N.Y. Catholic Bishops Conference as “health-care totalitarianism.”  

Another assault on religious freedom: New York City has forbidden public schools to rent their auditoriums to religious congregations for the purpose of worshipping in non-school hours. Concerned that the schools would appear to be “affiliated with a particular religious belief or practice,” the city argued the practice violated separation between Church and State.

            Fighting the decision in the courts, the Bronx Household of Faith argued that the city regulation “violated its constitutional right to exercise religion free from government interference.” On February 16, 2012, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals disagreed and ruled the city can kick religious worshipers out of the schools.

The latest: New York education bureaucrats have ordered the banning of dozens of words and topics from public school-issued English, math, science, and social studies tests. They want to extend to students the right not to have their feelings hurt when taking standard exams. Here’s a sampling of forbidden topics:

Nuclear weapons
Computers in the home
Death and disease
Religious holidays and festivals
Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes
Loss of employment
War and bloodshed
These words will not appear in city or statewide exams, ostensibly because students who read them might find them offensive or upsetting, and their ability to complete or pass the test may thus be hampered.

A test question that includes “money,” “vacation,” “expensive gifts,” might unnerve or hurt or sadden a student whose family lacks the financial resources to pay for vacations or buy gifts.

And we know why religious words or references are verboten – they are viewed as too controversial by their very nature. Non-believers may get depressed or feel excluded.

William Murphy, bishop of N.Y.’s Rockville Centre Diocese, recently observed, “More and more, government becomes the regulator and then the administrator of seemingly endless new social positions and policies to the detriment of intermediate institutions and local free initiatives.” 

Bishop Murphy went on to state that the Nanny State was violating subsidiarity, which holds that government exists to protect and guarantee the freedom of every person to perform social activities, and that those are best performed by the lowest and smallest groups capable of carrying them out. 

For the sake of the common good, government must act not as a dictator but as an umpire; making calls that protect the rights of families to make decisions based on their religious beliefs.

New York stands as a warning sign of what happens when bureaucrats arrogate to themselves powers that are not properly theirs. Every such power taken from individuals and groups diminishes freedoms. And the fact that all this happens under the guise of good intentions does not make any difference to the final result.

George J. Marlin is an editor of The Quotable Fulton Sheen and the author of The American Catholic VoterHis most recent book is Narcissist Nation: Reflections of a Blue-State Conservative.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (13)Add Comment
written by Gian, April 18, 2012
While I despise the bureaucratic encroachments as much as anybody else, this article presents diverse cases and each of them must be evaluated under its own terms.

E.g. trans-fats are actually unhealthy and it is proper for Govt to ban them. They are invented fats, not naturally existent.

Similarly to ban cell phones in cars in not per se an unjust bureaucratic encroachment.

Now if the schools are State's then naturally the education bureaucracy would exist and it would have the authority to set the school syllabus.

The case is made more for a conservative govt.and non-busybody mentality in bureaucracy rather than subsidiarity as such.
written by Manfred, April 18, 2012
You are quite correct, Mr. Marlin, and these points are precisely why my family fled New York State in 1950. The eastern European influence in the City was palpable and it was un-Catholic and it became anti-Catholic in time. A recent study reported 41% of pregnancies in New York City ended in abortion. Yet because of "Wall Street", it affords high paying jobs to Catholics who can practice their Faith in their home states in Connecticut and New Jersey. Thanks for the piece.
written by Trish, April 18, 2012
Sigh. It's rather ridiculous. All we're going to end up doing if we keep down this path is have generations of kids who never mature into adults because they let the government tell them whether to salt their food or eat junk food and because they have not had to learn how to deal with their feelings being hurt

What if (sarcasm inserted) my feelings are hurt during that standardized test by the presence of, say, chemistry questions? I loathe chemistry, and, since I know I would do poorly in that section, chemistry on the test would certainly hurt my feelings. So, are we now going to get rid of chemistry on standardized tests? And what if seeing trains mentioned in the classic "If Train A is headed west at X mph..." question hurts my feelings because a relative was killed in a train derailment, are we then going to cut out math questions mentioning trains? This feelings nonsense can get so absurd!!
written by Dave, April 18, 2012
I grew up in New York during the 60s and 70s and spent my early adulthood in the City, always proud that I was a native of the Empire State. Now when I go back I can't help but notice a certain flatness, an ennui, a sense that things have gone terribly wrong without anyone knowing why. I have a few suggestions: just a look at the state of cities and States with long histories of liberal governance (be it by Democrats or liberal Republicans) should have a salutary effect. A mentor of mine who helped me gain entrance to an Ivy League school complained when his daughter attended it that it had gone flat, there was no real conversation, no real zip. Well, yes: liberal orthodoxy kills. It flattens. It slays the goose that lays the golden egg, and it punishes those who say the Emperor has no clothes. The politics of wealth transference just doesn't work, because it just isn't just: we're not talking about temporary assistance to those in temporary need: we're talking about policies that flatten the middle and professional classes in order to maintain in dependence -- in dysfunction -- those who would leave the trap if they had any real alternative. And so where does this lead us: to worrying about trans-fats and tobacco, (a) because there is nothing better to do, having killed it off, and (b) because the managerial state seeks nothing so much as to lower risks -- and future payout of benefits to future beneficiaries. When political entities stop acting like insurance companies and start governing, leaving free and responsible citizens and their voluntary associations to help those who need helping, things will start to improve. But alas, we haven't hit bottom yet.
written by Jacob, April 18, 2012
Catholic leaders refuse to stir the base. You're afraid that secular people are right and very religious people who aren't intellectual are just nut jobs waiting for an abortion doctor to take out.
This is why the left wins. They're not afraid to perpetually stir their base and they manage to survive it when a small percentage of them do nutty things because so many of them do sane politically astute things.
As a younger Catholic I would try to hang around churches and successful Catholic men would look at me like I was pathetic or else maybe they were afraid to say something. For whatever reason they never said a word and I can guarantee you the same has happened with tens of thousands of other young Catholics. ("Come back in five months when RCIA starts again...Christ is on summer vacation with the cradle Catholics!")
Had we only been leftists we could have got a job for our passion. As Catholic young people we're ignored and belittled, never mentored (or perhaps shepherded is a better word).

So it's always surprising to me when older Catholics are shocked how few young people come to church. This seems like a common thread for boomers. You neglect your children until they hate you but shower them with shallow gifts and then have these priceless looks of shock on your faces when you find that we don't respect you despite all your money, power or college degrees.
This is what happens when you make your children smart but are too busy to raise them. Morality has a funny way of sticking around and it only makes people resentful when they're taught that morality doesn't really exist only to find out through real world experience that it mot certainly does.

(Disclaimer: I realize that not all boomers were or are unhealthy parents. I'm talking about the majority.)
written by Tony Esolen, April 18, 2012
The schools should not be considered as belonging even to a State, let alone to the federal government. The State, I think, has the duty to set broad parameters governing the schools: the length of the school year and the general subjects to be taught. Beyond those things, it should stay out of the schools, because it is the right and the duty of the people who send their children to those schools to run them as they see fit. All kinds of mischief could never have taken root in American education, if authority had not been snatched from parents and from local communities, little by little, until now I have as much say in what goes on in my local school as I do in who is going to be the next chief of a tribe in Borneo.

A thought experiment: how many ordinary people, salesmen, shopkeepers, housewives with budgets to handle, accountants, and so forth, would have put up with The New Math for more than five minutes, if they had had the authority to direct math education in their grade schools in the 1960's? And that was just one colossally stupid idea among a host of colossally stupid ideas that the illuminati have visited upon us, and continue to visit upon us.

The Nanny State kills people slowly, from inside. And I mean everybody, even the people who run the thing.
written by DS, April 18, 2012
Manfred, can you elaborate on what you mean by "eastern European influence"?
written by Achilles, April 18, 2012
Yes, the nanny state kills people. I have said the same thing about the public schools for quite a long time. It would be funny if it were not so tragic to witness the growing number of "learning disabilites" related to "attention". Instead of recognizing the dehumanizing curriculum and methods the "illuminati" have foisted upon us, we assume a flaw in the humans who can not tolerate it.

Mr. Marlin, scary and interesting essay, I didn't see the word "gay" on your list. We were reading the Horse and His Boy and in Chapter 11 C.S. Lewis used gay as an adjective, perhaps the Chronicles would ruffle some feathers in NY. thanks!
written by Mack Hall, April 18, 2012
But did you vote in your last city election? School board election? State election? Federal election? Democracy is not a spectator sport, and, viz. the Brother John Bates discussion in Act IV of HENRY V, democracy puts the burden on the citizen.
written by Manfred, April 18, 2012
DS: Do you think you have me with a "gotcha"? Sorry to disappoint. Why I meant Communist, Marxist, Trotskyite of course! New York City was rife with their pernicious influence from the time of the Spanish Civil War through the 1940s.
written by DS, April 19, 2012
Manfred, I wasn't hoping for a "gotcha," but your choice of words was both odd and vague, and I wondered if there might have been a reason why you just didn't say Communist or Marxist. The generic phrase "eastern European" could encompass many things in a city like New York: Communists, Jews and for that matter a variety of faithful Christians (Catholics like the Poles and Slovaks, Russian Orthodox, Uniate Catholic Churches like the Ukrainians, etc.)
written by Tony Esolen, April 19, 2012
Yeah, I vote in all the elections. Fat lot of good it can do, when most of the important decisions have already been taken away.

Here is something to consider: there were about 22 times as many school boards per 1000 children in 1930 as there are now. That meant involvement. In Canada, where my family and I spend our summers, there are even fewer school boards per 1000 children and with even less authority than they have here.
written by Achilles, April 20, 2012
Mark Twain said "God made idiots for practice, then he made school boards."

Certainly more school boards means more invovelment but of the school boards I know I am not so sure that is a good thing. The homeschoolers that go to classical sources like The Angelicum Academy may be making the best choice.

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