"Groundbreaking Victory" In Landmark Ruling Over Unconstitutional Public Funding Of New Jersey Religious Institutions

  Princeton Theological Seminary (Wikimedia Commons)

Princeton Theological Seminary (Wikimedia Commons)

A New Jersey appellate court has ruled that Governor Chris Christie's administration violated the New Jersey Constitution in granting public funds to two religious institutions that discriminate on the basis of religion and sex. Americans United, together with the ACLU of New Jersey and the national ACLU, collaboratively brought the case and called this ruling a "groundbreaking victory" in a joint statement today. 

The Christie administration announced in 2013 that Beth Medrash Govoha, an Orthodox Jewish yeshiva, and Princeton Theological Seminary would be two of a number of New Jersey institutions of higher learning to receive government funds via a voter-approved bond sale. The religious schools would have received a combined total of over $11 million.

In a brief to the appellate court, Americans United and the ACLU argued that the Christie administration violated the state Constitution by using taxpayer funds to subsidize religious facilities, provide maintenance for a place of worship, and subsidize private interests.

“New Jersey’s Constitution forbids giving state funding to divinity schools, and for very good reason,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, Americans United’s Associate Legal Director. “Tax dollars should go toward projects that benefit all the people of the state, not ones that aid only particular faiths.”

The argument also referenced New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination, which prohibits discrimination based on sex or religion by any place of public accommodation. The yeshiva, a theological school for Orthodox Jewish rabbis, bars women from both the student body and faculty. Similarly, the Princeton Theological Seminary prohibits non-Christians from joining the school as students or staff.

This decision marks the first time in nearly 40 years that the Appellate Division has set a major state court precedent concerning the prohibition on religious institutions receiving public funds.  It also advances one of our core goals by preventing the use of taxpayer dollars to support discrimination.