WASHINGTON (Feb. 2)
Conceding “an error in judgment,” Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) announced Monday he would seek to rescind the controversial $8 million allocation he inserted in the 1988 federal spending bill to build yeshivas in France.
The money was to be provided to Ozar Hatorah, a New York-based Orthodox Jewish organization. Discovery of the allocation provoked an outcry from across the political spectrum.
Inouye was charged with inserting the provision into the $600 billion continuing resolution without debate. “I did not sneak this legislation into law,” he said during a speech in the Senate chamber. He contended that the matter was deliberated on various occasions in public.
The senator also denied that the budget line may have been influenced by a $1,000 campaign contribution from New York real estate developer Zev Wolfson, who is a supporter of Ozar Hatorah.
“I have been accused of actions which are ‘shabby and self-serving,'” he said. “Some have even said that I sold my reputation and my honor for $1,000.”
Others have raised the separation of church and state. Inouye said later that “frankly, I do not consider questions about church and state. Persecution is persecution, whether it be against Baptists in the Soviet Union, Protestants in North Korea, or Catholics in Poland.”
He said the beneficiaries of the $8 million were to be French Sephardic Jews from North Africa who “have not been absorbed or assimilated. Though many have been in France for years, they remain refugees.”
Since appropriations bills in Congress must originate in the House of Representatives, Inouye asked Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the House counterpart to his subcommittee, to introduce the rescission measure there.
Obey introduced the bill Monday. The House is scheduled to vote on the measure later this week. A two-thirds vote is required in both houses for rescission.
ACLU FILES SUIT
On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit in New York District Court against the State Department, charging the allocation violated the constitutional principle of the separation between church and state.
Edwin Baker, an ACLU staff attorney, said Tuesday that while the suit would be moot if Congress rescinds the allocation, the ACLU may restructure the suit to challenge the State Department program from which Inouye allocated the $8 million.
That program — known as American Schools and Hospitals Abroad — has administered tens of millions of dollars since the early 1970s to U.S. organizations, such as Ozar Hatorah, that in turn build religiously affiliated hospitals and schools abroad.
Samuel Rabinove, legal director for the American Jewish Committee, welcomed Inouye’s decision. Rabinove added that he was willing to recommend that AJCommittee consider joining the ACLU’s lawsuit schools it only challenge the American Schools and Hospitals Abroad program.