WASHINGTON (Mar. 2)
The United States Supreme Court was asked today to rule that Federal construction grants to sectarian colleges were unconstitutional under the First Amendment. That position was argued by Leo Pfeffer, special counsel of the American Jewish Congress, as the high court began concurrent hearings on three school aid cases. The first of them, Tilton V. Richardson, challenges application of the Federal Higher Education Facilities Act of 1963 to church-controlled institutions. A Federal District Court ruling a year ago upholding construction grants by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to four Catholic colleges in Connecticut is being appealed by 15 Connecticut taxpayers with the aid of the AJCongress and the American Civil Liberties Union, Pfeffer argued that the lower court erred in its interpretation of the statute and that if not, the original Act violated both the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment.
Pfeffer asserted that it was not the nature of the specific facility at a church related college that should be the determining factor in awarding a construction grant, as the lower court held, but rather the degree of church relationship and control of the college and the role religion played in its purpose and operations. Tomorrow Pfeffer will argue on behalf of six Rhode Island taxpayers challenging a state law permitting part payment of the salaries of teachers of secular subjects in parochial elementary schools. The Federal District court in Providence held that statute unconstitutional. That decision is being appealed by the state and nine parochial school teachers and parents. Also scheduled for hearing tomorrow is the appeal by six educational, religious and civil rights organizations against a similar Pennsylvania law upheld by a Federal court in 1969.