Pearl Coalition Challenges Cardinal Cooke on State Aid to Private Schools

Terrance Cardinal Cooke the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, was challenged today on his bid for “substantial” State aid to private and parochial schools. The Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty (PEARL), a coalition of 29 organizations opposed to State aid, urged the New York State Legislature to reject “all bills aimed at giving public funds to nonpublic schools.” William Haddad, co-chairman of PEARL, warned at a press conference today that State aid to private and parochial schools, no matter what form it took, would result in the proliferation of private schools “segregating pupils by religion and by income as well as by race” while the public schools face “starvation budgets” and the cities “near bankruptcy.”

Cardinal Cooke, in a letter to Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller Monday, did not specify the type or the amount of aid for non-public schools. But he insisted that it was nodded to meet “the great economic plight of non-public education.” The Flynn-Lerner bill, introduced recently in the State Legislature, would provide cash payments of up to $250 per child to parochial school parents. Proponents of State aid have in the past urged repeal of Art. XI, Sect. 3 of the State Constitution–the so-called Blaine Amendment–which bars State aid to parochial schools on the basis of separation of church and state. Cardinal Cooke said in his letter to Gov. Rockefeller that repeal of Blaine was not “a matter of urgency.” He thereby publicly acknowledged a shift in Catholic strategy. Haddad said today that the drive for repeal of the Blaine Amendment has been abandoned by the parochial-aid forces because they realize that if the issue is placed on the ballot, “voters would overwhelmingly vote ‘no’.”

The 1970 Legislature passed a resolution to repeal the Blaine Amendment. But it requires a second passage and then must be submitted to voters in a referendum next fall. Spokesmen for PEARL say it is sure to be defeated just as New York voters rejected the proposed new State Constitution in 1967 which would have eliminated the Blaine Amendment. Haddad said that instead of pushing for repeal of Blaine, the pro-aid forces are engaged in “an all-out campaign to distribute untold millions of dollars of public funds to parochial schools, as if the strict constitutional prohibition against such aid were not there at all.” He charged that “State support of sectarian education poses a grave threat to religious freedom, to church-state separation and to public education.”

The constituents of PEARL include the American Jewish Congress, Citizens Union, Council of Churches of the City of New York, New York chapter of the American Jewish Committee, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Public Education Association, United Federation of Teachers, the United Parents Association and 21 other groups. In the Jewish community, the chief supporters of State aid are the Orthodox organizations. Haddad warned that a law giving public monies to private and parochial schools would “signal the beginning of the end of public education in this state and perhaps in the nation as well.” He said hundreds of religious, political and private schools “would spring up,” each “picking and choosing among its students, segregating pupils by religion and by income as well as by race In the face of the public schools’ starvation budgets and the near-bankruptcy of the cities, the demand on the Legislature to find new money for parents who chose to send children for private and religious education is unthinkable,” he asserted.

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