Court Expected to Rule on Ceta Fund Use in Religious Schools
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Court Expected to Rule on Ceta Fund Use in Religious Schools

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A ruling is expected from a U.S. Court of Appeals within six weeks in a case involving a lower federal court ban on participation of religious schools in job training programs funded through the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), Howard Zuckerman, president of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA), reported today. All Jewish religious schools with such CETA programs are affected, he said.

The appeal is being made against a ruling by federal District Court Judge John Reynolds in Milwaukee, made initially on July 1, 1979 and reaffirmed by him last Feb. 12, that such participation in programs funded under Title II of CETA violate the First Amendment ban against government involvement in religion.

Final briefs to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which sits in Chicago and has jurisdiction over Wisconsin, were filed June 5 by Milwaukee County, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the federal Department of Labor, which is the source of CETA funds.

On June 6, COLPA filed for itself and four other Orthodox Jewish organizations a friend of the court brief, prepared by Nathan Lewin, COLPA vice-president. The brief was filed for COLPA, Agodath Israel of America, the National Council of Young Israel, Torah Umesorah, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations. Zuckerman described the brief as a major defense for the Jewish community of the legality of such participation by religious schools. Both the appeal and the brief were filed in Chicago.

Zuckerman said CETA was the main funding vehicle for federally-sponsored manpower training programs for the “economically disadvantaged, unemployed and underemployed.” CETA is the successor to several earlier such programs, first enacted in 1964. Since then, religious institutions, as well as other agencies, have provided thousands of job training programs to prepare the jobless for gainful employment.


Reynolds banned the use of CETA II funds for all “full-time or part-time employes of any elementary or secondary school operated by or for any religious or sectarian organization.” Reynolds cited Supreme Court decisions enjoining various public aid programs to parochial schools. He ruled that the funding of programs which might result in indirect services to such schools, even in a CETA training context involving non religious activities, violated the First Amendment.

In response to Reynolds’ ruling, the Labor Department sent a telegram on April 28 notifying prime sponsors of CETA II programs that, as of 10 days after that date, all persons assigned to such schools under CETA II funding were to be terminated. While the exact number of such trainees is not certain, Zuckerman said it was assumed that the Labor Department order had been implemented by June 1.


In the brief, Lewin asserted that Reynolds’ ban, issued regardless of whether or not the trainee might advance the religious mission of the religious institutions, had generated great concern in the religious community. Lewin also declared that government funds had become a major resource in this area of manpower activity and that, if the lower court ban was allowed to remain in effect, the religious institutions would be excluded from one of the major social efforts of this period and their traditional role seriously compromised.

Lewin argued in the brief that both legally and logically, the constitutionality of programs created to train and employ the jobless must be judged by different standards than those which have been applied to government programs to aid parochial school education. Lewin contended that the First Amendment is not violated by a “religiously neutral” funding like CETA II which includes participation of religious schools simply as resources when the job training opportunities do not involve religious activity.

Zuckerman said the Appeals Court had been informed of the need for an early ruling, relative to the opening dates for the 1980-81 school year, because of the time needed for registration of applicants for such training in the schools. He said he based his six weeks estimate on that factor.


Rabbi Moshe Sherer, president of Agudath Israel, said that in addition to the legal steps, representatives of a coalition of national and New York local Jewish organizations met in Washington June 4 with Rep. Stephen Solarz (D.NY) and Stuart Eizenstat, special assistant to the President for domestic affairs, to discuss the problems posed by Reynolds’ ruling.

The organizations participating in that meeting included Agudath Israel, COLPA, Young Israel, Torah-Umesorah, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the New York Metropolitan Coordinating Council an Jewish Poverty, the Boro Park Jewish Community Council of Brooklyn, the Federation Employment and Guidance Service and the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York.

The Washington efforts, which sought to limit the negative impact of Reynolds’ ruling and the subsequent Labor Department’s April 28 order, included meetings between Caren Kraus, Department of Labor solicitor, and Sherer, Lewin and representatives of other faiths.

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