By Joseph L. Conn
New York taxpayers may soon be footing an $18 million annual bill to pay for rabbinical training.
Yes, you read that right.
According to the New York Post, elected officials in the Empire State have struck a backroom deal to expand the Tuition Assistance Program to pick up the tab for 3,660 students at a few dozen rabbinical schools in New York City and its suburbs.
Gov. David Paterson and some legislative allies apparently put the religion subsidy into the state budget as a gift to the politically powerful Orthodox Jewish community. Paterson, a Democrat, was planning to run for reelection as the budget was being prepared, and the hefty payoff seemed politically expedient. (He since has dropped plans to run again.)
As the Post put it, “What chutzpah!”
Fortunately, the cozy money-for-votes scheme has become public and is now drawing fire in the state legislature. It’s especially controversial at a time when Paterson is asking for funding cuts for public colleges and universities.
“Obviously, it’s totally inappropriate to advance a significant new program, when we’re cutting SUNY, when we’re cutting CUNY, when we’re cutting community colleges,” Assembly Higher Education Chairwoman Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), told the Post.
And this is not just a policy issue. It’s a constitutional problem, too!
Article XI, Section 3 of the New York Constitution says, “Neither the state nor any subdivision thereof, shall use its property or credit or any public money, or authorize or permit either to be used, directly or indirectly, in aid or maintenance, other than for examination or inspection, of any school or institution of learning wholly or in part under the control or direction of any religious denomination, or in which any denominational tenet or doctrine is taught….”
Sounds pretty clear to me.
And there’s also that First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – something about government making no law “respecting an establishment of religion.”
Let’s hope separationist forces prevail on this issue. And if you happen to live in New York, let the governor and your state legislators know how you feel about this.