Monday, April 11, 2016

The Civil Illiberties Union Targets a Yeshiva

New Jersey’s college grants set off church-state alarms—and years of litigation. WSJ.com
Rabbi Aharon Kotler arrived in the U.S. on April 10, 1941, having escaped Lithuania as the Nazis approached. Even as the Holocaust proceeded to destroy Jewish life in Europe, Rabbi Kotler declared that he would rebuild it in America.
He convinced 13 students to join him in Lakewood, N.J., where in 1943 he founded Beth Medrash Govoha. Today, BMG enrolls more than 6,800. Another mark of its success is that the school now has become caught up in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

In 2013 the state of New Jersey decided to give grants to colleges and universities to promote business and job opportunities. BMG was awarded $10.6 million to help build a new library and improve other of its facilities.
But the ACLU filed a lawsuit against New Jersey, objecting that the grant violates the state constitution. It is also offended that BMG is an all-male school, even though that is perfectly legal. After years of procedural wrangling, the lawsuit will be heard in a New Jersey appellate court on Monday—75 years, almost to the day, since Rabbi Kotler debarked in San Francisco and set about to transform Jewish life in America.
If that isn’t a sufficient good omen, there is also Harvard Law School Prof. Noah Feldman’s prediction, in a Bloomberg article shortly after the lawsuit was filed, that the ACLU’s challenge “is on shaky constitutional grounds and will probably fail.”
Let’s start with a stated purpose of the grants, which were intended to help spur economic development. BMG’s primary achievement is as an academic institution, but along the way it has transformed its hometown. Thousands of its alumni have purchased homes, raised families and created businesses in Lakewood and across New Jersey.
A 2015 report commissioned by the school shows that its alumni have created more than 3,000 businesses and employ about 11,000 people in Lakewood alone. The report credits the BMG community with paying more than $100 million in annual property and other local taxes. All of which is to say that the yeshiva fits the profile to be eligible for the grant.
Forty-six institutions submitted applications, and the money was awarded solely on secular criteria, agnostic about religion. All 46 that applied were awarded grants. The overwhelming majority of the $1.3 billion allotted was given to public colleges.
Private schools received about $85 million. They include nine religiously affiliated institutions, including Georgian Court University and the College of St. Elizabeth. Oddly, the ACLU only filed suit to block the grants awarded to two schools, BMG and Princeton Theological Seminary.
New Jersey’s state constitution does prohibit using public funds for “building and repairing any church or churches, places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry.” But a problem for the ACLU is that BMG is none of those things. It is a school.
In the late 19th century, many states enacted so-called Blaine Amendments banning public assistance to religiously affiliated institutions, including schools. The measures, named after Sen. James Blaine, were the progeny of the anti-Catholic sentiment fanned by immigration to the U.S. New Jersey is among the minority of states that has never enacted a Blaine Amendment. Similar language was proposed at the state’s 1947 constitutional convention, but was rejected.
What offends the ACLU most about Beth Medrash Govoha and Princeton Theological Seminary is their success. They continue to attract students to study texts written thousands of years ago. And they succeed in creating a cadre of graduates who fully participate in the modern world while being informed by an old-world code of morals, ethics and conduct.
BMG is certainly doing something right. About 5% of its graduates become rabbis, and many become educators. But most of its alumni enter secular professions and do well there. They also regularly gain admission to Ivy League graduate schools. I guess the admissions officers at Harvard, Columbia and Penn know something that the ACLU doesn’t about a BMG education.
Rabbi Kotler understood in 1941 that America’s respect for diversity, combined with the totipotency of the Talmud, would lead to a historic revitalization of Jewish life and learning. His vision of the U.S. was far more optimistic and liberal than the one being pushed by the ACLU. When the judges gather to hear this lawsuit on the 75th anniversary of Rabbi Kotler’s arrival, let’s hope that it is his vision that guides them.

3 comments:

  1. If everything is kosher with bmg then bmg has zero to worry about.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Why is The Lakewood spoop reporting election news and non related news to Lakewood but ignoring what goes on in town smh.

    ReplyDelete