The ACLU has filed suit against the State, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer, for violating church/state separations by awarding $10.6 million to a Jewish Orthodox yeshiva in Lakewood and $646K to Princeton Theological Seminary.
Reports of this specific backlash against state aid to religious institutions mostly conflate the awards, although the yeshiva is receiving almost twenty times more money than the Seminary. It’s worth noting also that PTS accepts students without regard to gender, while Beth Medrash Govoha restricts admissions to Jewish Orthodox men who have been studying Torah for years.
From Beth Medrash Govoha’s Wikipedia page re: admissions criteria (there is no website): “The yeshiva does not have a remedial program for weak or unprepared students, and reaching the level required to be a successful student at the yeshiva takes several years of intense, full-time study. As such, in general, only students that have already studied in an undergraduate level yeshiva geared for students aged 18–22, will be accepted.”
From Princeton Theological Seminary’s admissions material: “Although many of our students pursue calls to ordained pastoral ministry, we have a number who pursue other forms of ministry such as chaplaincy, social work, non-profit work, missions, or teaching.”
The Christie Administration would be wise to back down on this one. Not likely, I know, but this skirmish undermines any (faint) hope of even the most modest K-12 voucher proposal. (The Legislature just eliminated the Governor’s $2 million line item for a tiny voucher pilot program.)
The most compelling argument for publicly-funded vouchers to parochial and private schools is that it’s all about offering an escape hatches for kids stuck in failing schools. It’s not about patronage or distinctions of church and state. These two grants – particularly the huge one to Beth Medrash – muddies that argument because no one can think of Lakewood without the patina of patronage and the power of the Orthodox lobby.