TWO sectarian institutions in New Jersey – one which trains Catholic priests, the other rabbis – are set to receive millions in taxpayers’ dollars as part of a massive education funding programme.
And Americans United for Separation of Church and State is less than pleased, pointing out:
New Jersey’s Constitution is pretty clear on the question of taxpayer aid to religious institutions. Article I, Section 3, states in part, ‘nor shall any person be obliged to pay tithes, taxes, or other rates for building or repairing any church or churches, place or places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry….’
In addition, Section 4 of that same article goes on to say, “’shall be no establishment of one religious sect in preference to another …
Forcing New Jersey residents to subsidize seminaries that train people for careers in the pulpit would seem to be a clear violation of Article I.
The state plans to spend $1.3 billion on construction projects, many of them at colleges and universities. Schools were invited to apply for the aid, and in late April, a list of 176 approved projects at 46 colleges and universities was published.
Among the awardees are Princeton Theological Seminary and Beth Medrash Govoha, a rabbinical school In Lakewood, which enrolls over 6,000 students and is said to be one of the largest and most prominent yeshivas in the world.
The former is seeking nearly $650,000 for technology upgrades while the yeshiva wants a whopping $10.6 million to build a new library.
Said Americans United:
Both exist to impart theology and train members of the clergy. In the case of Beth Medrash Govoha, there’s an additional wrinkle: The conservative, all-male institution does not admit women.
Some New Jersey lawmakers are wondering why institutions that serve such exclusively religious purposes and that aren’t even open to all state residents have qualified for a tax-funded windfall. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex), said:
I can’t in good conscience sit by and let public money go to schools with such exclusionary policies. It’s a violation of the state’s constitution.
Questions have been raised about whether New Jersey, under the Governor Chris Christie, followed state law in making the grants. When a newspaper filed a request under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act to get copies of the applications filed by Beth Medrash Govoha and Princeton Theological Seminary, the Christie administration turned it down.
In a letter to state officials, Oliver expressed her dismay, writing:
For the administration to suggest to the Legislature and the public that the manner in which these funds were allocated is not information we are entitled to have is as bewildering as it is unacceptable.
Americans United added:
Forcing New Jersey residents to subsidize seminaries that train people for careers in the pulpit would seem to be a clear violation of Article I. No wonder Christie and other New Jersey officials are reluctant to release these applications.
More than half the population of Lakewood NJ, home to the yeshiva, is made up of Orthodox Jews – and they are not gay friendly, as this 2009 photo shows. These three bigots were pictured outside The New Jersey Statehouse protesting against proposed legislation legalising same sex marriage. (Source:AP Photo/Mel Evans)