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Jewish Community Differs on Supreme Court Edict on Aid to Parochial Schools

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The split in the Jewish community over government aid to non-public schools, specifically Jewish day schools, was dramatized again today by the issuance of opposing statements on the June Supreme Court decision that state aid to such schools is unconstitutional. The statement endorsing the rule was issued jointly by nine national Jewish organizations, including synagogue and rabbinic as well as civic groups. That statement also said the groups would oppose efforts “to find other means than those declared unconstitutional” to get public funds for religious schools. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, in its separate statement, criticized the other Jewish groups, keying its statement to the argument that they were opposed to government aid “for the secular programs” of religion-sponsored schools. The president of the UOJCA. Rabbi Joseph Karasick, said the activities of the Jewish organizations “in no small measure contributed” to the substantial victory of the anti-aid forces represented by the June 24 Supreme Court ruling.

The nine agencies are the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, the (Reform) Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Jewish Labor Committee, Jewish War Veterans, the National Council of Jewish Women, the (Reform) Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the (Conservative) United Synagogue of America. The UOJCA statement included an appeal by Joel Balsam, chairman of its communal relations commission, to the opposing Jewish groups to support other means than those barred by the Supreme Court ruling for aid to religious schools. The Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional supplemental state payments in Pennsylvania in the form of “purchase” of secular services from parochial schools. The nine groups said the Jewish community was “capable of and has sole responsibility” for supporting “a sound and effective system of Jewish education.” The nine-agency statement noted that “we have supported free lunches, medical and dental services and similar non-educational health and welfare aids for all children at public expense regardless of the schools they attend, as well as such auxiliary educational services as remedial reading and speech therapy for parochial school children in facilities or centers under public control, which children of all religious backgrounds can attend.”

Rabbi Karasick asserted that while the intent at the opposing Jewish organizations “is to preserve their interpretation of the principle of church and state, the effect of their activities represents a disaster to Jewish interests.” Balsom said, in the same statement, that the best thing that might happen would be for Jewish Federations to “fill the void and rescue the Jewish day schools.” If that happens, he asserted, it will mean the outlay of Jewish communal funds “to support secular programs that ought properly to have been the responsibility of government.” But, he said, “at worst, the gap will not be filled by them, or not in time for the impending school year, with the result that staff will be discharged, children of parents without the necessary means will be turned away, and many school will close altogether.” He noted that, as of last June, there were 417 Jewish day schools in the United States, with a total enrollment of 80,000 children.

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