Annual Loss of $30 Million to Jewish Day Schools Seen in High Court Ban
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Annual Loss of $30 Million to Jewish Day Schools Seen in High Court Ban

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The unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling today against almost all forms of governmental aid to non-public schools poses the prospect of an annual less in such aid to Jewish day schools, in one area alone, totalling at least $30 million, according to a preliminary and informal estimate by a spokesman for a national agency for such schools. In the 9 to 0 decision on cases from Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, initiated and argued by the American Jewish Congress, the Supreme Court declared that such aid would foster “an excessive government entanglement with religion.” The Rhode Island cases involved a 15 percent wage supplement to teachers of secular subjects in parochial schools. In the Pennsylvania cases, the High Court reversed a lower court ruling which had upheld the constitutionality of the state’s purchases-of-services formulas. The High Court also held that public aid to private schools would have “divisive political potential,” a view repeatedly advanced by the AJCongress in its fight against such government aid, and reiterated today by the organization’s legal counsel in commenting on the Supreme Court decision.

The spokesman for Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, an Orthodox agency, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that his preliminary estimate was based on an average of $350 to $400 per pupil now provided annually in “purchase-of-service” financial aid by states, multiplied by some 75,000 pupils in Jewish day schools in the United States. He also indicated that an initial evaluation of the Supreme Court ruling indicated the possibility that much, if not most, of the federal aid provided under a variety of programs might be imperiled by the ruling today, as well as other forms of state aid to non-public schools.


In the Rhode Island cases, the Supreme Court ruled that teachers–unlike textbooks for which such aid was permitted in the 1968 Allen cases–would not be inspected and kept under strict control. The Court said it could not assume that such teachers could segregate their religious beliefs from their secular teachings and that “a potential for impermissible fostering of religion is present.” In the Pennsylvania cases, the High Court held that three tests must be applied to public aid to private schools: the legislation must be totally secular in purpose; must have neither “primary nor principal” effect in advancing or inhibiting religion; and must not foster “excessive government entanglement with religion.” The Court ruled 5 to 4 in another action that the Higher Education Act of 1963 was constitutional, except for the provision limiting religious-use restrictions to 20 years. That provision allowed for public aid for construction of facilities at church-related colleges if the facilities were not used for religious purposes for 20 years.

Comment from Jewish spokesmen followed the split which has divided Orthodox and non-Orthodox-liberal Jewish opinion on the issue. Julius Berman, president of the National Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA) and Nathan Lewin, COLPA vice-president, told the JTA in a joint statement that “The American Jewish Congress and its counsel, Leo Pfeffer, instituted these cases and are largely responsible for this result. They now have the obligation to make sure the Jewish community can take care of its own schools. At least they ought now to turn around and support the day schools, most of which are under Orthodox auspices. They expressed the view that the ruling meant that “only narrow areas will be permissible, requiring an in-depth analysis of present legislation in New York and Maryland” on such aid. The other cases considered by the Court involved school aid program in New Jersey and South Carolina. The Court ordered those states to consider its rulings today.


The decisions were called “tragic” by Rabbi Bernard Goldenberg, Torah Umesorah director of school organization, who called on the Jewish Federations and welfare funds which “fought so vigorously against federal and state aid “to “apply the same sort of vigor and the same intensive energy to make sure to obtain support for the Hebrew day schools.” Noting that such schools were “caught in a tremendous financial bind,” he said “fighting against aid is negative. Guaranteeing the schools’ future and the educational quality of the Jewish community is positive. Unless the community acts,” he warned,” Hebrew day schools may become fewer in number and essentially a haven for the rich” Rabbi Moshe Sherer, executive president of Agudath Israel, another Orthodox organization, called the ruling “a keen disappointment to everyone who has been struggling to achieve equal educational choice for all citizens.” He said he hoped New York state’s school aid program, with its “better facets,” would not be effected. He said Agudath Israel would “research new areas of legislation” that would not “contravene” the Court’s decisions.

The president of the AJCongress, Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld, said the Court’s decision. “re-emphasizes the responsibility of the Jewish community to maintain its system of education” and that the AJCongress “calls on Jewish Federations and welfare funds, as we have called in the past, to increase their financial support of Jewish education of every kind and at every level.” He declared that, with the Court’s decision “the controversies and quarrels are over” and that every segment of the Jewish community “must now join hands to make sure that Jewish education will not suffer for lack of funds.”

Pfeffer said that the “landmark decision” had averted “the annual lobbying effort to tax funds that would have pitted religious group against religious group and private institution against public interest.” He interpreted the decision as a Supreme Court view that “it is not possible to separate secular education from the religious atmosphere which properly permeates a parochial school.” He said the decision would “strengthen religious liberty for it assures the American citizen that his tax funds may not be used to support a religion in which he does not believe.”

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