N.Y. State Court Rules Against Lending Textbooks to Religious Schools

A ruling that a New York state law which mandates public school systems to lend textbooks to Christian and Jewish religious schools is unconstitutional was seen today as setting the stage for a final court test of the controversial law. The ruling was issued this weekend.

The Ferrall-Mangano law, which was enacted in 1965 and amended at the last legislative session, was to have gone into effect September 1. The law would give school districts up to $15 for each pupil annually in state funds for three years for the purchase of textbooks to be “loaned” to pupils of both public and non-public schools. After three years, the pupil allowance would drop to a $10 limit. The state grants were set for all pupils, public and non-public, in grades seven through 12.

A split between Jewish groups on the issue of government aid to religious schools marked debate on the measure during its enactment and after it was signed into law. Orthodox Jewish groups supported the measure and hailed its enactment. Jewish civil rights groups assailed the measure. It was estimated that non-public school pupils in New York City were to have received about $1,250,000 worth of books this year under the Ferrall-Mangano Act.

The ruling on the law was made by State Supreme Court Justice T. Paul Kane, who held that the law violated both the New York State and federal constitutional provisions on separation of church and state. He held that “pupils are part of the school” and that aid to pupils was the same as aid to schools. Both federal and state programs of such aid were based on the premise that since the aid was directed to children, and not to the institutions they attended, the program did not violate the constitutional ban on aid to religion.

Dr. James E. Allen, Jr., New York State Education Commissioner, said he expected the ruling would be appealed. The decision on such action will be made by New York State Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz. Mr. Allen said “we have long needed legal clarification in this field of public policy and I expect this case will be appealed so that a final court decision will be available for future guidance.”

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