ALBANY, N.Y. (Sep. 20)
Gov. Nelson Rockefeller ended a six-months silence yesterday on the church-school aid issue with a pledge to campaign for the repeal of the Blaine amendment to the state constitution, which bars state aid to non-public schools. The Governor made his promise conditional on agreement by the state constitutional convention to place the question as a separate item on the ballot when the revised proposed state constitution goes before the voters in November. Repeal is generally opposed by Jewish non-Orthodox and community relations agencies and strongly backed by Orthodox Jewish groups. A proposal to repeal the 73-year-old amendment has been approved by the constitutional convention and final passage is considered a formality.
The Governor told a news conference here that if repeal was approved in November, he would name a high-level commission to determine the most practicable way for the state to provide more assistance than it now does for non-public schools. Such aid, in the form of free bus transportation and loans for textbooks, have been held not to conflict with the Blaine Amendment.
Mr. Rockefeller said he had decided to support repeal because in New York State, the limitations of the Blaine Amendment “can have serious implications on providing the best opportunities for the education of all of the children of this state.” He said he favored the opportunity to study the issue “without the shackles of the present amendment.”
The Catholic elementary school system would be the principal beneficiary of repeal. Orthodox Jews have created a substantial day school program, mainly in New York City, which also would benefit.
Gov. Rockefeller was sharply criticized by the New York Metropolitan Council of the American Jewish Congress which charged that by his stand for elimination of the prohibition on use of tax-raised funds for religiously affiliated schools, he “has revealed once again his lack of understanding of the protection given to both religion and government and particularly the public schools by the principle of separation of church and state.”
The statement added that “Experience has also shown that when church groups receive public funds for religiously sponsored education, the independence of the public school system becomes seriously weakened as religious considerations begin to influence the curriculum, the personnel and the very structure of public education. Governor Rockefeller previously demonstrated his lack of concern for this principle and for the threat such proposals pose to the public school system of this state when he supported legislation to supply textbooks to religiously affiliated schools.
“We believe that the people of this state will ignore his counsel, which in effect embraces the concept that the end justifies the means, and will vote in favor of retention of the present wise constitutional provision no matter how the issue is placed on the November ballot.”