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N.Y. State Constitutional Convention to Act on Aid to Students of Religious Schools

A Constitutional Convention committee was expected to complete today action on a proposal to repeal a 73-year-old state constitutional ban on financial aid to religious-sponsored schools and to report the recommendation to the convention floor next week.

The Convention Committee on Bill of Rights and Suffrage voted yesterday 16 to eight, with one abstention and two absentees, to recommend repeal of Article XI, Section 3 of the state constitution, popularly known as the Blaine Amendment. Organized Jewry in New York State is sharply split on the proposal. Most Jewish religious and civil rights groups favor its retention. Orthodox Jewish organizations are joined with the Catholic Church in favor of repeal.

Andrew R. Tyler, committee chairman, said the vote was tentative because a number of proposals are linked to the repeal recommendation on which the committee will vote as a package tonight. The Blaine Amendment states that New York State may not use its funds “directly or indirectly” to aid “any school or institution of learning wholly or in part under the control or direction of any religious denomination.” A substantial number of Jewish day schools under Orthodox Jewish sponsorship are affected.

To preserve the principle of church-state separation in the state constitution, wording similar to that in the federal constitution would be added to the state constitution to provide that no law should be enacted “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The federal government has provided millions of dollars in federal aid to students in religiously-linked schools from the primary to the university level under that amendment.

The committee also is working on language for a clause to permit any New York citizen to go to court to restrain any unconstitutional government act in the state, such as using public funds for religious purposes. A citizen may now sue the state only if he can prove he has been personally damaged by a governmental action.

Before the tentative vote to recommend repeal of the Blaine Amendment, the committee rejected by a 12 to eight vote an alternative proposal to permit the State Legislature to provide food and health services to pupils in religious schools. They now receive textbook aid and bus transportation from state funds.

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