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New York Federation Comes out Against Proposed New State Constitution

The Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, the largest voluntary philanthropy in the country, has voted to oppose the proposed New York State Constitution, Samuel J. Silberman, its president, announced today. The decision was taken by the Federation board by a vote of 84-33 on a report of its social legislation committee which held the draft “not acceptable.”

The committee, chaired by former State Assemblyman Bentley Kassal, considered those matters that specifically concerned the Federation and its agencies, namely — adoptions, gifts or loans of state credit, the State Board of Social Welfare, the family court, the state debts referendum and use of public funds in aid of denominational schools.

“We feel that based on the entire overall package as presented to us,” the committee declared, “and with specific reference to the areas where Federation is concerned, that there is little in the proposed Constitution in the health, welfare and education areas that can be considered progressive or liberal or an improvement over the present provisions.”

The report conceded that while some compromises might “possibly represent some gains,” they were not significant. “Any gains, modest as they may be,” the report continued, “are insignificant when compared to the action of the convention in removing the so-called Blaine Amendment. The potential diversion of funds to denominational schools, as a result of the elimination of article XI, section three, would undermine the present school system.”

An Orthodox spokesman charged today that the position of New York Jewish citizens on the proposed new Constitution “is being misrepresented.” He denounced reports that “invariably portray the Jewish voter as opposed to the Constitution which is projected as a Catholic document.”

The most controversial aspect of the proposed new charter which is being submitted to the electorate on Nov. 7 is its elimination of the Blaine Amendment, a 73-year-old provision prohibiting use of public funds for religious schools. In its stead, the new draft repeats the First Amendment of the Federal Bill of Rights and gives taxpayers the right to challenge in the courts expenditures which he considers violate the principle of church-state separation.

Rabbi Morris Sherer, executive vice-president of the Agudath Israel of America, national Orthodox Jewish movement, said that what was at stake was “an American issue of freedom of choice in education” which, he said, every Orthodox Jewish organization in the state supported.

The Agudath Israel is distributing leaflets calling for ratification of the new Constitution. Printed in English and Yiddish, the leaflets charge that the Blaine Amendment “discriminates against yeshiva children.”

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