The money is slated to go to Beth Medrash Govoha, a Lakewood school that trains orthodox Jewish rabbis, and Princeton Theological Seminary, a school that trains Christian ministers. The private schools are among 46 New Jersey colleges and universities due to split $1.3 billion in taxpayer funds for campus construction and renovation projects.
“We support freedom of religion; however the government has no business funding religious ministries,” said Ed Barocas, legal director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “Taxpayers should not foot the bill to train clergy or provide religious instruction, but the state is attempting to do exactly that.”
Beth Medrash Govoha and Princeton Theological Seminary officials did not immediately respond to requests to comment.
Beth Medrash Govoha, an all-male yeshiva, is scheduled to receive $10.6 million from the state to pay for a new library and academic center. Princeton Theological Seminary, a private school not linked with Princeton University, is scheduled to receive $645,323 from the state for technology upgrades.
“The state of New Jersey has an important role to play in providing financial support for institutions of higher learning in our state, but public money should not be used to fund schools that are not open and welcoming to all students in New Jersey ,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “State funding of higher education should not be done at the expense of the separation of church and state.”
The ACLU filed its lawsuit in Superior Court in Trenton. In addition to the ACLU, the plaintiffs are the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey and Gloria Schor Andersen, speaker-at-large for the Delaware Valley Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The state legislature is currently considering the list 176 projects approved by Gov. Chris Christie's administration to receive the higher education bond money. Several lawmakers have expressed concern about the grants to Beth Medrash Govoha and Princeton Theological Seminary and the process state officials used to approve applications for the money.