New York Legislature Seeks to Require Catholic, Private Schools to Recognize Preferred Pronouns

Cardinal Timothy Dolan and over 14,000 Catholics have publicly opposed the proposed ‘Nonpublic Dignity for All Students Act,’ which could leave Catholic schools vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits.

Gender pronouns written out in cursive on a chalkboard inside a classroom.
Gender pronouns written out in cursive on a chalkboard inside a classroom. (photo: Kryvosheia Yurii / Shutterstock)

The “Nonpublic Dignity for All Students Act” in the New York State Senate threatens to require Catholic schools to recognize chosen “gender identities” that may contradict a student’s biological sex. 

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York raised the alarm on the proposed legislation in an article published in Compact magazine last week. Cardinal Dolan writes that the proposed legislation would “force us to deny the inherent difference between boys and girls,” thus leaving New York Catholic schools vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits for enforcing male and female bathroom policies, sports teams, and uniforms on the basis of biological sex.

The legislation was sponsored by Democrat state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal of the 47th Senate District, who is civilly married to his same-sex partner. Modeled on the 2010 Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), which applies only to public schools, the new “Nonpublic” act states that it would apply to “employees or students on private, religious, or denominational school property or at a school function.” 

It is a purported anti-bullying measure, which would prohibit “discrimination” in Catholic and private schools based upon several characteristics, including “gender” and “sexual orientation.”

It defines gender as “actual or perceived sex and shall include a person’s gender identity or expression,” with Cardinal Dolan responding, “one way the state would deal with school bullying is by bullying parents of children in Catholic or other religious and nongovernmental schools into submission with regard to gender politics.” 

The New York cardinal emphasized that Catholic schools are deeply committed to combating bullying, enforce anti-bullying policies, can enact “expulsion of bad actors,” and declared that “tolerance for bullying is a complete anathema to the values of every Catholic school. This bill is essentially a solution in search of a problem.” 

School and parental rights to follow Catholic beliefs regarding human sexuality are being concretely brought into question by the proposed bill. The Church is committed to recognizing the truth of biological sex, with the Catechism of the Catholic Church stating:

“By creating the human being man and woman, God gives personal dignity equally to the one and the other. Each of them, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity” (2393). The Catechism also teaches that parents, not the state, “have the first responsibility for the education of their children” (2223).


Negative Reaction

There was a widespread negative reaction to the legislation, with more than 14,000 concerned Catholics emailing lawmakers through the Catholic Action Network to oppose the bill.

The  New York State Catholic Conference released a “Memorandum of Opposition” in late May, highlighting, “At a minimum, the measure would permit students to claim discrimination, and even harassment, should a school policy not accommodate their chosen name, pronouns, dress, or use of facilities, and the like.” They encourage the proposal of a bill that would “address bullying while respecting the religious practices of millions of New Yorkers.”

Dennis Poust, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, told the Register, “The NYS Coalition of Independent and Religious Schools, of which we are a member, opposes this bill. It includes Jewish, Protestant, Islamic and secular private schools. We worked especially closely with the evangelical Christian schools on this one.” 

New York state’s Catholic schools, which number more than 400 and serve nearly 200,000 students according to the NYS Catholic Conference, now appear to be facing a unique challenge. Poust was not aware of any similar legislation elsewhere in the country. 

The bill is currently still in the committee phase, and the legislative session ended over the weekend of June 7, with the bill not passing either house. 

While the bill has not advanced further, Cardinal Dolan said in his Compact commentary that it represents a governmental effort that expresses a threatening message to Catholics: “Essentially they are telling our parents: If you won’t toe the line and enroll your children in our government schools, we will force the policies of the government schools onto your schools.” 

Migrants wait in the cold as they look for a shelter outside a Migrant Assistance Center at St. Brigid Elementary School on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, in New York.

‘We’ve Got a Big Mess Here’

EDITORIAL: While U.S. politicians of all stripes maneuver to score points for their side on the humanitarian disaster that is immigration, the Catholic Church’s perspective stands out and is more sensible than many people realize.