The diocese of Rockville Centre sent a reminder to some of its school principals last week of its longstanding policy that requires students and spectators to stand during the national anthem at school events.
The directive was sent to the three diocesan high schools: St. John the Baptist in West Islip, Holy Trinity in Hicksville and Bishop McGann-Mercy in Riverhead.
“This is a reminder that all student athletes and spectators are expected to stand during the playing of the National Anthem at school sporting events, without any gestures of demonstration or protest,” it said. “This is a school policy and applies equally to all participants and audiences at all school events, including those that are not sporting; for example, concerts and plays. We ask our students also to recognize that failure to abide by this policy may result in serious disciplinary action.”
The instruction came in the midst of controversy surrounding athletes in the National Football League, who have sat or knelt during the national anthem before games as a way to protest racial and social injustices, including police brutality.
However, Diocese Spokesman Sean Dolan emphasized that the policy was established years ago and is not in response to the recent controversy.
“The diocese and its schools take no position on that controversy or the subsequent national political debate over it,” a diocese statement read. “Instead, the diocese restated its own policy, which it believes is appropriate for high-school and younger students.
“At the same time the Diocese respects the right of its students and spectators to have their own political and social beliefs and to express those beliefs at appropriate times,” the statement continued. “Indeed, as a Catholic institution it believes that part of the mission of its schools is to help its students learn to think through controversial issues for themselves guided by Catholic teaching, and to question things that they think are wrong in a respectful manner and with Christian charity.”
Rockville Centre Schools Superintendent Dr. William Johnson did not wish to comment on the matter. However, Robert J. Zayas, executive director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association said there are no specific NYSPHSAA policies regarding this issue.
“High school sports are a fabric of our great country, and honoring our freedoms with the playing of the national anthem prior to New York high school athletic competitions is an important event,” he said in a statement. “The ability to peacefully protest is a part of those said freedoms, and a right that some high school student-athletes in the state have exercised.
“Undoubtedly, other players, coaches and fans may follow suit. It is important to remember that high school sports are an extension of the classroom. It is our sincere hope that these actions generate meaningful discussion among the high school communities as a whole, as opposed to unilateral praise or condemnation. The NYSPHSAA is in the business of providing support for education-based athletics and does not have specific statewide regulations regarding pregame ceremonies or the national anthem.”
Ken Young, assistant vice president of public relations at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, also said the school does not have a policy, and has not had any protests during the anthem at any of its events.
The St. Agnes Cathedral School and the American Civil Liberties Union had not responded to the Herald’s request for comment at press time Tuesday.