Proponents, Foes of State Aid to Parochial Schools Debate Effect of Court Rulings
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Proponents, Foes of State Aid to Parochial Schools Debate Effect of Court Rulings

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Two Jewish authorities on constitutional law with opposing positions on Government aid to church-related schools, each predicted today the strengthening of his viewpoint as a result of recent decisions of the Supreme Court. Dr. Marvin Schick, of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, said that the Court’s ruling upholding the loan of textbooks to parochial school pupils, was the first “clear-cut ruling” that schools under religious supervision “serve the public interest.” He told 250 community relations leaders attending the annual plenary of the National Community Relations Advisory Council, that the time had come for the Jewish community “to reexamine intelligently” its traditional opposition to most forms of Government support to sectarian education.

But Dr. Leo Pfeffer, of the American Jewish Congress, calling the textbook case decision “quite narrow and not particularly new,” said the court’s language also indicated it was not prepared to change its long standing position that direct support to sectarian education is unconstitutional. Dr. Pfeffer also predicted that church-state separation would be re-enforced by an “era of litigation” as a result of a related court decision, handed down on the same day, permitting tax-payers’ suits to challenge alleged violations of the First Amendment.

The conflict of views was an indication that the Orthodox movement will again enter a dissent, as it has in recent years, from the joint policy statement on church-state issues that is to be reviewed here by the NCRAC agencies. Dr. Schick said that Jewish groups must “forego sterile pronouncements and threatening cliches that have already been rejected by other libertarian forces.” He urged that they participate “in working out an equitable formula” for pupils in public and parochial schools. “The old Jewish position on church-state relations serves neither to advance the public welfare nor to promote a healthy relationship among governmental authorities of all types of schools,” he said.

Dr. Pfeffer strongly disagreed. He described the textbook decision as only a “fringe benefit” reaffirming earlier court rulings. He said the court’s concern appeared to be “the extent of religiosity” in the classroom acceptable when it is “a small and incidental” aspect of the curriculum but likely to be ruled unconstitutional “when it permeates the teaching and practices of the school.”

This requires religious groups “to choose between operating their schools in the traditional way, in which religious teachings and practices play a major role, in which case they would have to give up their claims to public financing,” or make “radical changes” in curriculums and subject their schools “to much more supervision and control of public authorities,” Dr. Pfeffer said.

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