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Concern Expressed by Court Ruling on Payment of Ceta Funds for Jobs in Religiously-sponsored Schools

Deep concern was expressed here today by a Jewish legal expert over a Federal Appeals Court ruling upholding a lower court decision which banned payment of funds under the Comprehensive Training and Employment Act (CETA) for full or part-time jobs in religiously-sponsored schools, including Jewish day schools.

Howard Zuckerman, president of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA), indicated that concern in reference to the ruling Sept. 15 by the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit which sustained a ruling by Federal District Court Judge John Reynolds in Milwaukee.

Reynolds ruled last Feb. 12 that such participation in programs funded under Title 11 of CETA violated the First Amendment ban against government involvement in religion. Zuckerman said COLPA had filed a friend of the court brief in the Appeals Court on June 6 for itself and four other Orthodox Jewish organizations. The brief was prepared by Nathan Lewin of Washington, a COLPA vice president.

On June 3, final appeals had been filed in the Appeals Court, which sits in Chicago and has jurisdiction over Wisconsin, by Milwaukee County, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the federal Department of Labor, which distributes CETA funds.

Zuckerman said the exact number of CETA 11 trainees in Jewish elementary and secondary day schools was not certain but that the five Jewish organizations were “deeply disturbed” by the ruling because of its impact on CETA programs “which have provided many useful job training sites for the jobless” in the religious schools.

ANOTHER STEP TOWARD TOTAL EXCLUSION

Zuckerman added: “We are also concerned that this decision is another step along the road that may ultimately lead to the total exclusion of religious institutions from significant efforts to alleviate social ills which affect the Jewish community and other religious communities.”

The four other Jewish groups joining with COLPA in the brief were Agudath Israel of America, the National Council of Young Israel, Torah Umesorah, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

In reporting on the background of the case Zuckerman said that Congress had enacted a public service employment section in CETA in 1978 to provide jobless economically disadvantaged persons transitional employment in public service areas to enable them to develop job skills to make it possible for them to become gainfully employed by the private sector.

Zuckerman said that at issue were such job positions as providing remedial educational services, instruction in summer or recreational programs, instruction in adult education programs custodial child care for after school hours, diagnostic or therapeutic speech and hearing services, services related to student health and safety, grading state-prepared examinations, and general food service work.

The legal battle began when a taxpayers’ suit was filed in Milwaukee Federal Court on Oct. 3, 1978 (Decker v. U.S. Department of Labor), contending that the use of religious schools as federally-funded job training sites violated the First Amendment because the services were provided within, the context of the operation of the parochial schools.

In the brief prepared for the five Jewish organizations, Lewin argued that the First Amendment “establishment” clause did not require disqualification from a totally secular program created to help solve the pressing nationwide jobless problem of a large number of useful and available openings for training which served no religious function, only because the services were provided in parochial schools.

In two orders, dated July 11, 1979 and last Feb. 12, Judge Reynolds generally barred placement of workers, with CETA. Tittle 11 funds, in religious schools on the grounds that such placements would create a potential for excessive entanglement between church and state, excessive governmental interference in religious affairs, and the likelihood of excessive political lobbying over allocation of tax funds involving predominantly religious considerations, all resulting in a violation of the “establishment” clause of the First Amendment.

In response to Reynolds’ rulings, the Labor Department sent telegrams 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. Zuckerman said today he assumed that all such trainees had been dismissed.

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