In a precedent-setting decision, a New Jersey appellate court ruled in May that the administration of Gov. Chris Christie violated the New Jersey Constitution when it awarded more than $11 million to two religious institutions of higher learning.
Americans United, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and national ACLU, successfully challenged New Jersey's grants of $10.6 million to Beth Medrash Govoha, an Orthodox Jewish yeshiva in Lakewood, and $645,323 to Princeton Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian seminary, both of which are dedicated to religious training and engage in discrimination. This decision by the Appellate Division represents the first major state court precedent in almost 40 years concerning New Jersey's prohibition on using taxpayer funding to support a religious ministry.
"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, in a press statement. "Tax dollars should go toward projects that benefit all the people of the state, not ones that aid only particular faiths."
Although the court based its ruling solely on the New Jersey Constitution and state precedent, the groups also argued that a New Jersey statute called the Law Against Discrimination prohibits any place of public accommodation from discriminating based on religion or sex. While the yeshiva and seminary are private religious entities that are permitted to discriminate with their own resources, the state government cannot give special benefits that subsidize and support that discrimination, the groups argued.
AU and its allies noted that the New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education's...