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Oliver, Diegnan, Ramos & Wagner Urge Christie Admin not to Disburse Higher Education Grants for Religious Institutions

(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Democrats Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver, Patrick Diegnan, Ruben Ramos and Connie Wagner sponsored urging the Christie administration not to disburse higher education grants for religious institutions until a court determines if the grants are legal was approved Thursday by the Assembly.
The bill (AR-191) stems from concerns surrounding the Christie administration’s plans to award taxpayer money to two religious institutions – a Lakewood yeshiva that excludes women and the Princeton Theological Seminary. The grants are currently subject to a lawsuit.
Voters last year approved $750 million for higher education projects.
“When New Jersey voters approved this money, they rightly expected that grants would be awarded only to institutions that are constitutionally eligible to receive public funds,” said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “Given the important interest of preserving the New Jersey Constitution’s principles and the provisions of our law against discrimination, no grants to the institutions in question should be disbursed until a court has rendered its finding. Taxpayers deserve that consideration.”
“I am greatly concerned that tax payments will be used to support religious instruction and instruction that excludes women,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “Legitimate and serious questions have been raised about the lack of transparency surrounding this decision making and allocations that come with clear constitutional questions. Holding this money until the court rules is clearly the right approach.”
“These grants are subject to challenge as a violation of the separation of church and state, and as long as that dispute remains, this money should not be disbursed, ” said Ramos (D-Hudson). “Both the lack of transparency in how these grants were awarded and the unanswered concerns regarding the constitutionality of the grant awards – especially when a great institution such as Stevens Institute of Technology receives nothing – raise serious questions about the integrity of the grant process.”
“Taxpayer money should not go toward religious instruction, nor should it be used to promote studies that exclude women,” said Wagner (D-Bergen). “The process needs to be questioned, and this money should not be spent until the court has made its ruling. Clearly, this money could be spent more wisely, especially when institutions such as Ramapo College deserve more help.”
Last year voters approved $750 million for higher education projects. Then, on April 29, the Secretary of Higher Education submitted to the Legislature a list of higher education capital projects and the amount of the grant for each project.
Included on the list are two projects for Beth Medrash Govoha, a Lakewood Township yeshiva, with total recommended funding of more than $10.6 million.
According to a state website, Beth Medrash Govoha is licensed by the state to offer a bachelor’s degree in Talmudic Studies, a master’s degree in Rabbinic and Talmudic Studies, an Advanced Graduate Talmudic Diploma and a Graduate Talmudic Diploma. Also, according to available information, Beth Medrash Govoha’s student body and faculty are entirely male.
Also included on the list of projects submitted by the secretary are three projects for the Princeton Theological Seminary, with total recommended funding of more than $645,323 under the Higher Education Technology Infrastructure Fund Act.
Princeton Theological Seminary is a Presbyterian Christian seminary and according to the website of the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, it’s licensed by the secretary to offer a master’s degree in Christian Education and various other degrees in the “Theological Professions.”
A lawsuit was recently filed by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking to declare the grants to Beth Medrash Govoha and the Princeton Theological Seminary to be in violation of the New Jersey Constitution and of the “Law Against Discrimination,” and to enjoin the treasurer and secretary from disbursing the disputed funds to the institutions.
Duly authenticated copies of the resolution, signed by Speaker Oliver and attested by Assembly Clerk Dana Burley, will now be transmitted to the treasurer and the Secretary of Higher Education.