From: Charles Sumner 10 Sep 94 14:04
Subj: Living in a Theocracy
What is it like to live in a theocracy?
It was time to elect members of the public school board. The
religious leader named enough candidates to fill the board. Another
person of the same religious group announced he was running for a
seat. The religious leader objected. The maverick was told he was
no longer welcome to attend religious services where he was a
member. His son was expelled from the religious school. A crowd
of several hundred of his fellow religionists marched to his home,
calling for his death and throwing rocks through the windows. His
tires were slashed.
Does this sound like Iran? Maybe Northern Ireland? No, this was
in Orange County, New York, in the village of Kiryas Joel, in 1990.
The town had permitted the Satmar Hasidic Jewish community (an
ultra-orthodox group) to draw village lines to encompass just its
members. This had been requested so that the Satmar could avoid
obeying town zoning ordinances. Years of wrangling occurred over
the Satmar's demands for religiously segregated education. Then
the Legislature of the State of New York created a special school
district with the same boundaries as the village and began funding
a public school for children with disabilities, a school established
for religious purposes. A foot in the door.
The New York State School Boards Association took the case through
four courts over a period of about five years. Kiryas Joel lost in
every court. The State of New York sided with the Satmar and spent
your tax money defending an indefensible establishment of religion.
Even after the Supreme Court decision in June, legislative leaders
collaborated and drew up legislation designed so that only this
village could meet the requirements. It was railroaded through the
legislature at 5 a.m. on the last day of the session. Governor
Cuomo signed it over the protests of civil libertarians.
What this does is start the entire legal process over again, with
your tax money again being used to defend special legislation for
a religious group. Will what was illegal suddenly become legal now
that the State has done the same thing by indirection? How can a
legislature which cannot come up with a budget on time in ten years
and which cannot deal adequately with major legislation afford to
be drawing up legislation for special interests?
The case has more significance that, however. Religious Right
groups joined the State of New York to try to obtain a precedent so
that they too could get public money for their religious education.
They hope to open a crack in the wall of separation and allow a
trickle which will eventually widen to a flood and leave certain
religious groups with more funds with which to seek members and
power. This will place other religious groups at a disadvantage
and may force them to also seek public funds.
Why else would the following groups have so much interest in
approving this legislation? Pat Robertson's American Center for
Law and Justice, Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights,
Christian Legal Society, National Association of Evangelicals, James
Dobson's Family Research Council, Southern Center for Law and
Ethics, Christian Life Commission (political arm of the Southern
Baptist Convention,) U.S. Catholic Conference, Cardinal John
O'Connor and the Archdiocese of New York, Knights of Columbus,
We need to support groups like Americans United for Separation of
Church and State, which drew up an amicus brief and was joined by
five other organizations to oppose Kiryas Joel and the State of New
York. We need people who will stand for religious liberty and
equality for all before the law.