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Pearl Sues Rockefeller, Levitt in U.S. Court to Bar State Funds for Parochial Schools

The Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty (PEARL) and 13 individual plaintiffs today filed suit against Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, State Comptroller Arthur Levitt and State Education Commissioner Ewald B. Nyquist to prohibit the expenditure of public funds on parochial schools. At issue in the key test case is the constitutionality of Chapter 138 of the Laws of 1970, signed into law by the Governor on April 18 and went into effect July 1, which apportions $28 million of state funds to be paid to non-public schools for record-keeping purposes. The suit, mod in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeks “a temporary and permanent injunction against the allocation and use of the funds of the State of New York to finance the operations of schools controlled by religious organizations and organized for and engaged in the practice, propagation and teaching of religion.” Further, the suit asks the Federal court to declare such use of public funds “violative of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Federal Constitution and of Article XI, Section 3 of the Constitution of the State of New York.” In the complaint filed today, Leo Pfeffer, special counsel of the American Jewish Congress and attorney for all the plaintiffs, declared that each of the defendants had construed the act as applicable to parochial schools and, “unless enjoined by this court, will approve the payment and make payment to such schools in violation of the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New York.”

The suit contends that the new law “on its face” violates the First Amendment by: giving rise to an “excessive governmental involvement in and entanglement with religion” by financing and subsidizing schools which are owned and controlled by religious bodies; prohibits religious freedom because it constitutes “compulsory taxation for the support of religion or religious schools”; and violates the State Constitution by using public money to aid or maintain schools “wholly or in part under the control or direction of religious denominations.” At a news conference in Stephen Wise Congress House Mr. Pieffer called the new law “a device by which those who support public funding for parochial schools seek to circumvent both the U.S. Constitution and New York’s.” Among the individual plaintiffs were: Albert Shanker, president of the United Federation of Teachers; Aryeh Neier, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union; Howard M. Squadron, co-chairman of the Governing Council of the American Jewish Congress; Edward D. Moldover, president of the New York Chapter of the American Jewish Committee; Naomi Cowan, chairman of Onondagans for PEARL; Benjamin Haiblum, past president of B’nai B’rith District One; Rebecca Goldblum, president of the National Women’s Conference of the American Ethical Union: Herschel Chanin, member of the administrative committee of the Jewish Labor Committee, and Bernard Backer, president of the Workmen’s Circle.

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