We were hoodwinked.
Everyone in New Jersey was.
Last November, voters approved Public Question No. 1 - a $750 million bond act to fund new academic buildings at the state's colleges and universities. At the time, few people knew that five months earlier, on June 21, the original legislation had been amended at the urging of Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland.
The amendment deleted language excluding "any educational institution dedicated primarily to the education or training of ministers, priests, rabbis, or other professional persons in the field of religion."
Democrats made no announcement of the change, which came during a jam-packed legislative session in which the Senate and Assembly dealt with dozens and dozens of bills.
Certainly, none of the reams of promotional material sent out by groups urging a yes vote noted that religious-training institutions were now eligible for funding.
But they were. And when the Christie administration recently released the list of 176 proposed projects, the change was clear. Among the proposed recipients of the bond money is the Beth Medrash Govoha, an all-male rabbinical school in Lakewood, which was awarded a whopping $10.6 million. And Princeton Theological Seminary is in line to get $645,313 from a previous bond issue that was combined with the $750 million to create a $1.3 billion pool of money.
Now, the American Civil Liberties Union and some lawmakers are questioning the money for the all-male rabbinical school and the Princeton Theological Seminary, which trains Christian ministers. They say the state shouldn't be funding these religious-training institutions with public money - and we agree.
The award to Beth Medrash Govoha is particularly outrageous. It hired a lobbyist to get the bill amended, according to The Star-Ledger. The head of the school, Rabbi Aaron Kotler, accompanied Gov. Chris Christie to Israel last year. And although Kotler endorsed Christie's challenger in 2009, he recently did an about-face and endorsed the governor.
The Legislature has 60 days from the release of the 176 proposed projects to accept or reject the entire list. We supported the $750 million bond issue. Investing in the state's institutions of higher education is critical. New Jersey had not approved a bond issue for higher education facilities in 24 years.
But the governor and Sweeney apparently
couldn't resist playing political games with the money. Unfortunately, now the Legislature has no choice but to reject the list. Schools that train rabbis and ministers - schools that by their very nature discriminate on religious grounds and, in the case of Beth Medrash Govoha, on the basis of gender as well, should not be receiving public funds.