Pearl Suit Challenges N.Y. Parochiald Law; First Since Supremes Court Ruling

New York State’s new $33 million parochiald law, due to go into effect September 1, was challenged today as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment in a suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by the Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty (PEARL) and 14 individual plaintiffs. It was the first suit in the nation to be filed on the subject since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 28 that state funds could not be used for teacher salary payments or supplements in religious elementary and secondary schools in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Two days later the high court, affirming a lower court decision, struck down a similar law in Connecticut. Plaintiffs are expected to base their arguments on the Supreme Court’s ruling that state aid to sectarian schools involved excessive government entanglement with religion prohibited by the First Amendment. Governor Rockefeller’s approval of the legislation, passed in June, was announced the same day as the Supreme Court decision. The New York law, Chapter 822 of the Laws of 1971, is untitled “An Act to provide acceptable secular educational services for pupils in non-public schools.” Included are teachers’ salaries and other instructional costs for secular subjects.

The PEARL suit 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 owned and controlled by religious organizations and organized for and engaged in the practice, propagation and teaching of particular religions.” The suit asks the Federal court to declare such use of public funds “violative of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Federal Constitution.” The plaintiffs and defendants are already in the Federal Court in another suit filed July 30, 1970 challenging the constitutionality of the $28 million Mandated Services Act passed last year. A three-judge Federal court was convened to hear that suit but action was held off pending the Supreme Court rolling in the Pennsylvania and Rhode Island case. Federal Judge Morris E. Lasker ruled last January, however, that PEARL had standing to sue. Leo Pfeffer, attorney for all the plaintiffs in both cases, said today that he expects a hearing before the three-judge court to be held before the beginning of the school year on the Mandated Services suit and possibly on this one.

In the complaint filed today, Pfeffer declared that the parochiald law violated the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment because it gave government subsidies to schools controlled by religious groups, organized to practice, propagate and teach particular religions and giving admission and employment preference to persons of particular faiths; involved governmental action whose “purpose and primary effect” was to advance religion: gave rise to “excessive governmental involvement in and entanglement with religion.” and intensified “political fragmentation and divisiveness on religious lines.”

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