A number of state lawmakers want to know why the state of New Jersey is giving $11 million to religious schools. Of that amount, more than $10 million is earmarked for one ultra orthodox rabbinical school in Lakewood. Now the ACLU of New Jersey is calling on the Christie administration to release the public records. Ed Barocas, ACLU-NJ Legal Director, told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the ACLU has submitted a public records request to learn how the Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks determined an award of over $10 million to the yeshiva. But so far, he said the request has been met with silence by the Christie administration.
“Earlier this week, the Secretary for Higher Education was asked before the senate what are the criteria that you’re using to give away tens of millions, and the Secretary of Higher Ed refused to answer,” he said. “So we don’t know what criteria is being used to give money to public schools, private schools, or potentially schools that discriminate in their hiring or in their admission process.”
Barocas said the legitimacy of the state award to religious schools rests ultimately on how the state is using its discretion.
“For example, if the state has the authority which it does under the regulations to consider the value of the project, then we run in to the serious question of how is it valuing one religious project over another religious project and is there preference being shown,” he explained.
Awarding taxpayer dollars to religious schools is limited under federal and state law, said Barocas.
“There are rules under the federal constitution that limit the right,” Barocas said. “There are also special New Jersey constitutional protections against giving money for maintenance of a ministry or giving money to a church.”