NEW YORK (Jun. 22)
An Orthodox leader here said today an appeal will be made to the U.S. Supreme Court from a decision yesterday by a federal court in Manhattan voiding as unconstitutional a 1974 New York State law reimbursing religious schools for the costs of state-mandated testing and record-keeping.
At the same time, Sidney Kwestel, president of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA) said COLPA believes that the 1974 law does not violate previous Supreme Court rulings in that area of public assistance. Kwestel also told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that COLPA intends to file a brief in support of Jewish day school and yeshiva students in any appeal of the decision.
Rabbi Moshe Sherer, executive president of Agudath Israel of America, in reporting that the lower court decision would be appealed, “by a group of non-public schools,” called the lower court decision “a serious error in judgement.” Rabbi Bernard Goldenberg, director of school organization and professional services of Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, also criticized the decision. Declaring that there are some 200 yeshivas and Hebrew day schools in the state, he said that, at this time of inflation, they would “feel this financial blow.”
COURT CITES AID TO RELIGION
The special three-judge federal court struck down a provision of the 1974 state law under which the state paid up to $10 million a year to the nonpublic schools for the costs of administering Regents examinations, keeping pupil attendance records and other state-mandated paperwork.
The court said it was “clear” that the aid to the secular functions of “sectarian schools is in fact aid to the sectarian school enterprise as a whole and results in the direct advancement of religion.” The two rabbis gave differing totals for the amounts received by Jewish day schools annually under the 1974 law. Goldenberg estimated the amount as $1.5 million. Rabbi Sherer’s estimate was $750,000.
The 1974 law represented a state effort to meet U.S. Supreme Court objections to a 1970 state law providing for such reimbursement, which the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional. The 1974 law was challenged by the Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty (PEARL), a coalition of 36 civil liberties, educational, labor and other groups, including a number of Jewish organizations. Leo Pfeffer, counsel for the American Jewish Congress, has served as counsel for PEARL.
Kwestel said the 1974 law, unlike the 1970 law, requires strict accountability for the manner and the purposes for which reimbursement is made to the non-public schools and that for this reason, COLPA believed the 1974 law was constitutional.
Goldenberg said it had been “fully expected” that the 1974 law, “which does not deal with teachers or instruction” in non-public schools, and which was “totally secular and non-ideological,” would be accepted. But he stressed that the loss of funds to financially-pinched day schools, while it would make “matters worse,” would not cripple or force closure of any of the affected Jewish day schools.