Groups Say New Jersey is Wrong in Defending Taxpayer Grants to Yeshiva, Seminary

Nearly $11 Million for Construction Awarded to Two Schools Raises Concern About Discrimination, Use of Public Funds to Support Religious Mission

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
July 21, 2015 2:00 pm

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NEWARK, N.J. – The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of New Jersey, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have challenged New Jersey’s rationale for awarding more than $11 million in taxpayer funds to two higher education institutions dedicated to religious training and instruction.

In ACLU-NJ v. Hendricks, New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman defended state grants to the Lakewood Yeshiva Beth Medrash Gohova and the Princeton Theological Seminary in a brief dated June 10, 2015.Hoffman argued that the grants are for academic purposes – the construction of classrooms, a library and other capital improvements – not furtherance of religious teachings and, therefore, do not violate the state constitution or the Law Against Discrimination.

“The constitution does not allow the state to subsidize the training of clergy or other religious instruction, nor does it allow subsidizing discriminatory institutions. The proposed grants would do exactly these things,” said Edward Barocas, legal director of the ACLU of New Jersey.

Responding to the state’s defense, groups filed a brief characterizing the state’s arguments as “unavailing” and an attempt to undermine a 1978 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that clearly bars the use of public funds for the maintenance or support of religious groups. The brief asks the state appellate court to recognize the violations of the constitution and bar the state from awarding the tax-funded grants to the schools.

“These grants flout important safeguards in the state constitution,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “Taxpayers shouldn’t have to underwrite discrimination or the religious training of clergy.”

Following a competitive application process, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in April 2013 released a list of 176 college construction projects to be funded with the proceeds from a voter-approved bond sale. The ACLU, ACLU of New Jersey and Americans United went to court in June 2013 to challenge the funding under the state constitution and the Law Against Discrimination.

“Taxpayers must not be forced to fund divinity schools,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United. “The court should strike down these grants.”

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