ACLU Files Suit Over NJ Grants to Religious Colleges


I wrote a few weeks ago about the state of New Jersey planning to give more than $10 million to a Jewish school that trains rabbis. Now the ACLU has filed suit in state court over the grant, arguing that it violates a provision in the state constitution that forbids using tax money to support religion.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the national ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit today to stop the state of New Jersey from awarding more than $11 million in taxpayer funds to two higher education institutions dedicated solely to religious training and instruction.

The groups also filed a petition asking the court to immediately prevent the state from doling out grants to those two institutions, Beth Medrash Govoha and Princeton Theological Seminary.

“We support freedom of religion. However the government has no business funding religious ministries,” said Ed Barocas, legal director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “Taxpayers should not foot the bill to train clergy or provide religious instruction, but the state is attempting to do exactly that.”

On April 29, Gov. Chris Christie’s administration released a list of 176 college construction projects it intends to aid with money from a voter-approved bond. The New Jersey Constitution forbids any such taxpayer funds from supporting ministries or places of worship.

Beth Medrash Govoha, an Orthodox Jewish rabbinical school in Lakewood, is slated to receive $10.6 million from the state to pay for the construction of a new library and academic center. All courses of study at Beth Medrash Govoha are classified as “Theology/Theological Studies” or “Talmudic Studies.” The school prepares students to become rabbis and religious educators.

Similarly, Princeton Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian Christian seminary, is slated to receive $645,323 from the state. All courses of study at the seminary either prepare students to serve as ministers or priests in Christian religious traditions or to serve as religious educators. The New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education’s website identifies the school as a “theological institution.”

“Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for the training of clergy,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, associate legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “These grants plainly violate the separation of church and state enshrined in the New Jersey Constitution.”

Seems pretty obvious to me.

Comments

  1. chris69 says

    Of course if it were a school for Muslim theology, the Religious Right and all the conservative pundits would be all up in arms protesting the funds being spent.

  2. John Pieret says

    In (mostly a perverse way) I feel sorry for Christie. Here he is, a very popular governor in the heart of America’s media capital. If he is a candidate for President, he would force any Democrat to pour huge resources into New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and elsewhere in the usually blue northeast. It would give him an enormous advantage.

    But can he win the Republican nomination? Probably not. Merely thanking the President for help during a natural disaster has made him anathema to many of the “base.” Therefore, he has to try these blatantly unconstitutional ploys to shore up his right. Worse now, just before his reelection, SCOTUS’ same sex marriage decisions came down and he will probably have to veto another attempt to have full SSM in NJ, in order to placate the wingnuts.

    Rock and hard place barely describes it.

  3. dogmeat says

    Seems pretty obvious to me.

    I’m not certain it is all that obvious. The question I see arising is that of public funding going to private schools but then being denied private schools that happen to be religious. You could argue then that the schools are being disadvantaged for being religious, infringing upon their religious liberties. Personally I have a problem with public money going to any private institution, religious or not.

  4. Alverant says

    dogmeat, their religious liberties are not being infringed upon by not getting supported by the government. The government can’t show religious preference. It would be like saying the laws against assault are an infringement of my rights to swing my arms whenever God tells me to.

  5. dogmeat says

    dogmeat, their religious liberties are not being infringed upon by not getting supported by the government. The government can’t show religious preference. It would be like saying the laws against assault are an infringement of my rights to swing my arms whenever God tells me to.

    I don’t get your analogy at all and has nothing to do with the state funding an activity. My point is, if the state is giving public money to private schools, but refuses to do so because a private school is religious, it is treating those private entities different based upon their religion. A better analogy, state gives money to private schools but does not give money to private black schools.

    Now you could argue that the religious schools are in violation of equal access/civil rights legislation and all schools that receive the funding must follow the state guidelines for equal treatment, but if the state is giving public money to private entities, refusing to do so because one is religious and the other is secular is questionable.

  6. JustaTech says

    @ Draken @5 “10.6 mln US quid for a library? What the hell do they cover it with, gold plates?” Well, big buildings are expensive these days, but it is probably also to hire the librarians (Masters degrees and up) fund the collections, fund perservation, etc, etc. (Why yes, I have worked for a graduate research library at a major Ivy League.)

  7. John Pieret says

    Um, dogmeat:

    The New Jersey Constitution forbids any such taxpayer funds from supporting ministries or places of worship.

    Now, it is arguably constitutional for the state to help fund private universities the way it helps fund private businesses with tax incentives and low cost loans because they increase a public good but rabbinical schools and seminaries increase only a religious “good” and shouldn’t be publically funded.

  8. says

    I’m not certain it is all that obvious…

    It is when the activities and curricula being funded are purely religious in nature.

    …if the state is giving public money to private schools, but refuses to do so because a private school is religious, it is treating those private entities different based upon their religion.

    No, it’s treating such entities differently based on their ACTIVITIES: a school that devotes its resources toward serving a rational secular purpose (like teaching kids how to read and do math) should get state assistance, but one that spends money on purely religious activities should not.

  9. timberwoof says

    It seems clear-cut that since the colleges in question are seminaries and rabbinaries that teach only religion, they should not receive any public money.

    However, if Beth Medrash Govoha and Princeton Theological Seminary were to also teach classes in underwater basketweaving technology, would they then become eligible to receive state funds?

  10. John Pieret says

    However, if Beth Medrash Govoha and Princeton Theological Seminary were to also teach classes in underwater basketweaving technology, would they then become eligible to receive state funds?

    Do the baskets sell for a prophet profit? ;-)

  11. says

    However, if Beth Medrash Govoha and Princeton Theological Seminary were to also teach classes in underwater basketweaving technology, would they then become eligible to receive state funds?

    IANAL, but IMHO, they’d have to create separate entities, with separate money pots, for secular and religious activities; and the state would fund the secular pot (while the church that owns the schools could fund both), on the condition that there would never be any mixing of the two pots under any circumstances.

  12. dogmeat says

    John & ‘Bee,

    My point is that if these are accredited universities but are singled out for denial of funds based upon their religious nature while other private accredited entities receive funding, denying the funds may be legally problematic.

    If they are unaccredited seminaries and teach nothing else it gives the denial of funds greater weight, but it isn’t simply open and shut. In the past similar arguments have been made regarding the appropriation of textbooks, transportation, etc., where state governments have subsidized education in both public and private schools. In those cases the inclusion of religious private schools has been found to be constitutional.

    I’m not saying it should be legal, nor am I supporting the idea, simply pointing out that it isn’t necessarily as open and shut as some of you believe it to be.

  13. John Pieret says

    As a matter of Federal constitutional law, you may be right that it is a non-bright-line area, though funding schools/colleges that solely function as seminaries is highly suspect. The problem for Christie is that it appears to be a clear violation of the state Constitution (though I haven’t bothered to look it up).

  14. francesc says

    “The New Jersey Constitution forbids any such taxpayer funds from supporting ministries or places of worship”
    But technically, those places aren’t ministries or places of worship, they are “education”· centres. The problem here is that theology is even considered by the state a subject of study, but given that, it may not be unconstitutional.
    The analogy would be to fund Hoghwarts, would you allow it to be registered as an education centre?
    On another hand, becoming a minister/rabbi seems to be a pretty good career with great income expectatives and teology may be as much a science as economy is

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