HACKENSACK, NJ – The Archdiocese of Newark is defending itself after coming under fire amid reports that the Catholic Church demanded that an LGBTQ-themed mural be toned down.
Students at the Bergen County Arts & Science Charter School, a public school that rents space from Holy Trinity Church in Hackensack, claimed earlier this week that a student-created mural on a pillar – which featured a rainbow heart with male symbols – was changed after complaints by the church.
After the heart was repainted all red, the school and church was criticized by Garden State Equality, a statewide group that advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
The organization's executive director Christian Fuscarino said they were contacted by a 16-year-old junior at the school and called what happened "offensive, unconscionable and flatly unconstitutional for this church acting as a for-profit landlord to restrict a public school’s curriculum or censor student speech."
He also added: "This type of hate-fueled bigotry is precisely why New Jersey needs LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum to promote acceptance and understanding.”
In a statement issued Thursday, the Archdiocese said “facts regarding wall paintings at the Bergen Arts & Science Charter School have been grossly misrepresented” and that they “wish that Garden State Equality first had contacted us directly about the matter.”
What happened at the school stemmed from two concerns raised by Holy Trinity Church, according to the Archdiocese.
“First, that the school refrain from consistently painting on the building surfaces. Secondly, that the school remove some content in a new painting, which included some symbols of sexuality that were inappropriate for the building, as the building is utilized by parishioners of the Church, as well as the School,” the Archdiocese said.
The Archdiocese also said: “While the focus of attention has been on an illustration of a heart – there was neither any specific discussion about that section of the painting, nor direction to remove it. Clearly the school or teachers decided to amend that part of the mural in response on their own.”
On Thursday, Trinity Church, which has been renting space to the charter school for the last decade after closing its Catholic school, declined to comment, saying it is a "matter between the school and its student."