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Massive Petition Campaign by Pearl Urges NY Legislature to Uphold Ban on Aid to Religious Schools

Declaring that the battle to maintain separation of church and state is far from won despite the US Supreme Court’s ruling last June that state aid to parochial schools is unconstitutional, a civil liberties group announced here last night that it was embarking on a massive petition campaign to persuade the New York State Legislature “to reject any bill and repeal any law” which violates the state constitutional ban on aid to religious schools.

According to William Haddad, executive cochairman of the Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty (PEARL), “regardless of court decisions, it appears, advocates of state aid to church schools are not going to give up their goal of full public financing as long as they appear to have some measurable political clout in state or national legislatures and in the executive branches of government.”

Haddad spoke at the opening session of a two-day statewide meeting of PEARL, a coalition of 31 civic, religious, education, labor and civil rights organizations. An immediate target of the group is a bill signed by Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller last June providing $33 million in state funds for religious schools for the purchase of educational services.

SUPREME COURT DECISION BEING EVADED

A PEARL suit against that law in Federal court will be heard Tuesday. The case will be argued by Leo Pfeffer, legal counsel of the organization. In the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Pfeffer told the PEARL delegates last night that the “pattern of attempts to evade the meaning of the Supreme Court’s decisions” on parochiaid followed that of Southern governors and legislatures after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling outlawing racial segregation in public schools.

He said the response to the desegregation decision “was a host of devices and gimmicks to evade its prohibition and to achieve continuation of a pattern which the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional.” Pfeffer noted that Rockefeller signed the purchase of services act a day after the Supreme Court ruling against state aid to public schools and that it was the same kind of law that was struck down by the Supreme Court in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Haddad said “We hope it will be possible to avoid the necessity of filing new lawsuits each year by encouraging our legislative representatives to obey the basic law of the land and the will of the people.” The petition PEARL has addressed to the lawmakers in Albany urged the New York State Legislature to “protect public education and religious liberty by obeying both the letter and spirit” of the New York State Constitution. “We want our legislature to reject any bill and repeal any law which violates or evades this provision by any means whatsoever, including purchase of services from denominational schools, tuition grants or vouchers, and tax credits for tuition costs,” the petition added.

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