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Why religious organizations should be cautious of government 'help'

Published: Saturday, Aug. 30 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, addresses the country's first PreK Nation at the Scholastic Inc. headquarters in Soho, on Tuesday, August 5, 2014 in New York.

Stuart Ramson, Stuart Ramson/Invision/AP

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Religiously affiliated preschools in New York City are currently in talks with Mayor Bill de Blasio about the possibility of government funds in exchange for adding programs of a more secular nature, according to The New York Times.

New York City is struggling with "inadequate public school capacity," the Times reports, and the mayor's administration is hoping religious schools can step in to provide some extra help. The catch, however, is that in exchange for government funding the schools would have to secularize their curriculum. Only the “social/historical educational elements” of the various religious traditions represented by the schools would be allowed, according to the Times.

Such a trade-off has left both civil libertarians and the school officials reluctant to embrace the idea. Kevin Seamus Hasson, founder and president emeritus of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty — a nonprofit law firm based out of Washington, D.C., that deals exclusively with cases related to religious liberty — thinks that such reluctance is a good thing.

According to Hasson, historical precedent suggests that governments seemingly friendly toward religious diversity are potentially only one election away from hostility, something he calls the "Pharaoh Effect" in reference to the story of Joseph in Egypt.

By allowing the city of New York to dictate the curriculum of private religious schools, Hasson argues in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, such organizations are leaving themselves vulnerable to eventually forfeit their religious identities altogether.

"The government, bent on enforcing conformity with some social policy or other, suddenly cracks down on religious institutions that won't go along," he wrote. "Authorities typically come wielding both carrots and sticks — perhaps with the best of intentions.

"What happens next depends largely on the strength of the religious institution's sense of identity and its will to defend that identity."

Read the entire op-ed at The Wall Street Journal.

JJ Feinauer is a Web producer for Moneywise and Opinion on DeseretNews.com. Email: jfeinauer@deseretdigital.com, Twitter: jjfeinauer.

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