SUPREME COURT TO HEAR APPEAL BY HASIDIC COMMUNITY
WASHINGTON (UPI) -- In what could be another test of church-state separation,
the Supreme Court Monday agreed to hear the case of a New York school district
set up solely to teach disabled children of a Jewish sect.
Kiryas Joel is a largely isolated, Yiddish-speaking community inhabited
entirely by members of the Satmar Hasidic sect.
Most of the nearly 100 school-age students of the Kiryas Village School
District are taught in the Satmar Hasidic parochial schools. But disabled
students had to go to classes in nearby public schools.
Because Kiryas Joel is an extremely conservative community, its disabled
children were "traumatized by their experiences in attending the...schools
outside the village," according to a petition before the Supreme Court.
After some legal wranglig between the community and the public school
district, the New York legislature stepped in to try to solve the problem.
As a result, the legislature set up the Kiryas Joel Village School District in
Orange County in 1989 to serve the approximately 10 disabled students present
in the community.
Gov. Mario Cuomo, D-N.Y., signed the bill setting up the new school district
"to reduce community tension," but warned the district that it would have to
go out of its way to avoid a constitutional conflict.
Two top officials of the New York State School Boards Association brought suit
against the Kiryas Yoel Village School District in January 1990, charging that
it violated the separation of church and state in both the U.S. and New York
The New York courts agreed that the district violated U.S. Supreme Court
According to the village school district petition, the residents of Kiryas
Yoel "are Satmar Hasidic Jews -- devoutly religious people who believe in
maintaining an insular community where religious ritual is scrupulously
Satmar Hasidic community members have "distinctive dress and appearance,"
don't watch television and separate boys and girls into single-gender
The village school district, however, teaches co-ed special education classes.
According to the Satmar Hasidim, no one is excluded from the village on
grounds of race or religion, but so far no one except members of the sect has
chosen to live there.
State school board association officials Louis Grumet and Albert W. Hawk
contend that the Kiryas Joel School District violates the First Amendment
under the conditions set up by the Supreme Court in Lemon vs. Kurtzman in
New York appeals courts agreed with Grumet and Hawk, saying that the special
district violated what is known as the "Lemon test," because it does not
demonstrably serve a secular purpose, and it represented an unconstitutional
blending of church and state.
However, in a number of decisions last term, the Supreme Court ruled that the
"Lemon test" does not allow discrimination against a religion when there is no
similar secular discrimination.
Argument in the case will probably be heard next spring or fall.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to reconsider its
longstanding rule for enforcing the constitutionally required separation of
church and state.
The court voted to use a case involving a New York school district created for
children of a Hasidic Jewish community to re-examine its landmark 1971 ruling
on how far government may go to accommodate religious beliefs or practices.
The high court has relied on that ruling in deciding many church-state issues
over the past 22 years.
In the case accepted for review Monday, New York courts ruled that the
creation of the Kiryas Joel Village School District was an unconstitutional
government endorsement of religion.
The justices could have granted review and limited the issues in the case to
avoid reconsidering the 1971 ruling. But Monday's order reflected no such
The high court has allowed the district to continue operating pending final
action in the case.
The court's 1971 ruling in Lemon vs. Kurtzman said laws or government
practices are unconstitutional if they have a religious purpose, primarily
advance or promote religion, or excessively entangle government and religion.
New York legislators created the Kiryas Joel district in 1989 to resolve a
dispute over how to educate disabled children in the Orange County village.
Almost all village residents are members of the Satmar Hasidic sect, a
devoutly religious group that maintains an insular community where religious
ritual and distinctive dress are observed, Yiddish is often spoken instead of
English, and girls and boys are educated separately.
Most of the children in the village attend religious schools. Disabled Hasidic
children had attended class in the public Monroe-Woodbury Central School
But their parents withdrew them, saying they were traumatized by going to
school outside the Kiryas Joel village.
The new public Kiryas Joel district was created to accomodate their needs. It
teaches a secular curriculum to mixed classes of girls and boys, and all of
its teachers live outside the village.
Officials of the New York State School Boards Association challenged the
creation of the district, saying it was a constitutionally impermissible
accommodation of the Jewish sect's beliefs.
A state judge and mid-level appeals court ruled that creation of the district
violated the Constitution, and the state's highest court agreed.
"The primary effect ... (is) to yield to the demands of a religious community
whose separatist tenets create a tension between the needs of its handicapped
children and the need to adhere to certain religious practices," the state
Court of Appeals said.
The Monroe-Woodbury district and state Attorney General Robert Abrams joined
the Kiryas Joel school district in appealing that ruling.
The law creating the school district "has, at most, the effect of
accommodating the needs of a community of devoutly religious people," the
Kiryas Joel appeal said. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that such
accommodations do not necessarily violate the Constitution, it added.
Government can accommodate religious concerns as long as it does not directly
aid or subsidize a religious institution, added the Monroe-Woodbury district's
But lawyers for the state School Boards Association officials said the main
effect of creating the Kiryas Joel district was "to involve the state in
sponsorship of Satmar separatist precepts."
That "violates the very core of constitutional prescriptions for the
separation of church and state," they said.
The cases are Board of Education of Kiryas Joel vs. Grumet, 93-517; Board of
Education of Monroe-Woodbury vs. Grumet, 93-527, and Attorney General of New
York vs. Grumet, 93-539.