R.i. Law Giving State Aid to Parochial Teachers’ Salaries Unconstitutional

The three-member Federal District Court here ruled unconstitutional a 1969 law authorizing the state to contribute to the salaries of parochial school teachers. The suit had been brought by the American Jewish Congress and the American Civil Liberties Union. Leo Pfeffer, AJCongress special counsel and the chief attorney in the case, DiCenso vs. Robinson, called the ruling handed down Monday “the first decision based on a record of testimony and evidence showing how the religious atmosphere so permeates a parochial school system as to make public subsidies to such schools a violation of the First Amendment.” Mr. Pfeffer said the decision was the first to apply the test of constitutionality. established by the United States Supreme Court May 4 in the Walz decision, which warned against “an excessive government entanglement with religion.” The DiCenso case is expected to be appealed by the state. State funds totaling $375,000 were appropriated for 15 percent of the salaries of non-public school teachers of secular subjects. The beneficiaries of the 1969 state law are 98 Catholic schools. Mr. Pfeffer produced a 1964 Diocesan school handbook describing the “primary objective” of the parochial schools as “the forming of mission-minded Catholics.”

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