US/World News

NJ court rules $11M state grant to yeshiva unconstitutional

(JTA) — A New Jersey court has ruled unconstitutional state grants to two religious institutions — including $10.6 million to one of North America’s largest haredi Orthodox yeshivas. The ruling was made Thursday, May 26 by a New Jersey appellate court, the Asbury Park Press reported. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration announced the grants in 2013 as part of a $1.3 billion funding package allocated among 46 educational institutions in the state.

The $10.6 million grant to Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, which has more than 6,500 male students and offers courses in Judaic studies only, was supposed to help fund construction of a new library. The other institution, a Presbyterian seminary, was to receive $645,323. The grants have not been paid yet.

“This is a victory for civil rights and a victory for New Jersey taxpayers, who should never have to subsidize institutions that discriminate or that exist to teach their particular religious doctrine,” Edward Barocas, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s New Jersey office, said in a statement, according to the Asbury Park Press. The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a complaint in state Superior Court in 2013 to stop the grants. The complaint was later moved to a state appellate court.

In its unanimous decision, the three-judge court panel wrote, according to the Star-Ledger: “Here, unlike other broad-based liberal arts colleges that received grants, both the yeshiva and the seminary are sectarian institutions. Their facilities funded by the department’s grants indisputably will be used subsequently, if not exclusively, for religious instruction.”

New Jersey’s attorney general defended the grants in court, arguing they should be allowed because they paid for secular, rather than religious, activities.

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