Religion

Court: Grants To Religious Schools Are Unconstitutional

| by Katie Landoll
Udi Ofer, Executive Director ACLU-NJUdi Ofer, Executive Director ACLU-NJ

A New Jersey Appellate court ruled against Republican Gov. Chris Christie's administration on May 26, barring the government from granting $11 million to two religious schools.

The administration planned to award a $10.6 million grant to Beth Medrash Govoha, a Jewish yeshiva, and more than $600,000 to the Princeton Theological Seminary, according to the New Jersey Law Journal.

The grants were intended for infrastructure improvements, including a new library for the yeshiva and technology upgrades for the seminary.

The New Jersey State Department of Education awarded the grants in 2013 as part of a $1.3 billion fund for campus improvements in 46 colleges and universities.

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According to the New Jersey Law Review, the grants were originally approved because they were meant for improvements to buildings and equipment rather than religious ministry.

The grants were challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which claimed they funded religious training, violating the state’s constitution.

The ACLU also claimed the grants were unconstitutional because the institutions in question engaged in discrimination. Beth Medrash Govoha hires and trains only Jewish men, and the Princeton Theological Seminary admits only Christians to its degree program.

“This is a victory for civil rights and a victory for New Jersey taxpayers, who should never have to subsidize institutions that discriminate or that exist to teach their particular religious doctrine,” said Ed Barocas, the legal director of the New Jersey chapter of the ACLU.

The appeals court found the grants in violation of Article I, paragraph 3 of the state's constitution, which prohibits use of taxpayer funds for the construction of churches or places of ministry.

Moshe Gleiberman, vice president of Beth Medrash Govoha, expressed disappointment in the ruling and emphasized that most of the yeshiva’s students pursue careers outside the clergy.

“Excluding these students and the institutions which serve them from funding solely on the basis of religion -- even though they meet grant criteria -- is its own form of discrimination. This doesn’t just hurt Jewish students, it hurts us all,” he was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

Sources:  New Jersey Law Journal, NJ.com, AP via Yahoo News, ACLU / Photo credit: Robert Sciarrino/NJ.com

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