NEW YORK (Jul. 1)
A Jewish expert on legal issues affecting observant Jews described as “devastating” two decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court today both by 5-4 votes, holding unconstitutional two programs by which, at public expense, remedial educational services had been brought to pupils of all-day religious schools on the premises of the schools.
The majority ruling held in both cases that “even a praiseworthy, secular purpose of providing for the education of school children cannot validate government aid to parochial schools when the aid has the effect of promoting a single religion or religion generally or when the aid unduly entangles the government in matters religious.” The general decision was that the programs have the principal effect of advancing religion in violation of the Constitution.
Dennis Rapps, executive director of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA), which had filed friend-of-the court briefs in both cases, said the Supreme Court had upheld decisions of federal Courts of Appeal in the Second and Sixth Circuits. The briefs were prepared by Nathan Lewin of Washington, COLPA vice president.
PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS TAUGHT CLASSES
In one case, the Second Court of Appeals had invalidated a program under Title I of the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Under that program, the federal government provided funding for local public school boards to arrange remedial mathematics and reading courses to all educationally-deprived children in low income areas.
As part of the Title I program, the school boards provided public school teachers to teach the remedial classes at the parochial schools, including yeshivas, in the same way that such services were provided to public school children. Under this arrangement, public school teachers taught the remedial courses on the premises of the non-public school.
Rapps said that, although there had been no evidence, in the nearly 20-year history of the program, of any mingling of the contents of the religious programs of such schools with the federally-funded remedial programs, the Supreme Court accepted the Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the mere potential of such mingling rendered the entire program unconstitutional.
OFF-PREMISES SEEN AS POOR SOLUTION
He said the effect of the invalidation of Title I will be severe for children attending Jewish religious schools. He said it appeared, in the light of the Supreme Court rulings today, that the only constitutional method of providing the federally-funded remedial services by public school teachers would be off the premises of the religious school.
Rapps said this would mean that the non-public school students would have to be transported to a neutral or public school site to receive the remedial teaching during the school day or after hours.
He pointed out that, since transportation is extremely time-consuming, this did not appear to be a viable option, adding that the students would hesitate to leave their regular classes in the non-public school during the regular school day. Since most such students currently attend classes until around 5:30 p.m., remedial programs could not realistically be scheduled after that hour, he said.
In addition, he asserted, the cost of transporting the students to such neutral sites has been estimated as involving about 40 percent of the total allocation of federal funds for the remedial services.
In a parallel case in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Rapps reported, the impact on Jewish religious schools is indirect because no students in Grand Rapids parochial schools had been directly benefitted by the remedial programs under Title I. Also there appear to be no Jewish day schools in Grand Rapids.
Nevertheless, COLPA intervened in that case on the premise that the principle of whether supplementary publicly-financed educational programs may be conducted under the control of public school personnel is of major importance to observant Jews, Rapps said.
PAROCHIAL STUDENTS EXCLUDED FROM HELP
He explained that if non-Jewish private schools are denied the benefits of such federally-financed programs, they are effectively excluded from such help from educational benefits offered to the rest of the student population, because of the religious beliefs of the parents of non-public school students.
He said that in the Grand Rapids program, enrichment programs for mathematics, reading, art, music and physical education were provided to non-public school students on parts of the public school premises set aside for the time needed to implement the aid programs. Rapps said COLPA had filed friend-of-the court briefs in both cases on behalf of major national Orthodox organizations.