TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey cannot give $11 million in grants to two religious schools, including one of the largest ultra-Orthodox yeshivas in the world, an appeals court ruled Thursday.
The state appeals court ruled the $10.6 million grant to the all-male Beth Medrash Govoha yeshiva in Lakewood and $645,323 to the Princeton Theological Seminary are unconstitutional.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State had challenged the grants, which New Jersey officials argued were OK because they were meant to pay for buildings and equipment, not religious activities.
The grants were made as part of $1.3 billion given to schools across the state in April 2013. The court said its ruling doesn't mean the state can't give money to religious-affiliated schools that have a broader sectarian mission.
"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," said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas.
Moshe Gleiberman, vice president of BMG, said the yeshiva is disappointed in the ruling and is confident the grants will be reinstated by the state Supreme Court. The yeshiva itself wasn't named in the suit and a spokesman for the state attorney general's office declined to comment on whether it will appeal.
Gleiberman said most of the 6,800 students at the yeshiva — where they devote themselves to the study of Jewish law — go into non-clergy professions. He said the projects the grants were to fund, including a library and research center, are on hold.
"Excluding these students and the institutions which serve them from funding solely on the basis of religion ?— ?even though they meet all grant criteria — is its own form of discrimination," Gleiberman said. "This doesn't just hurt Jewish students, it hurts us all."