Claims Nixed Over Public Funding of Jewish Schools

     (CN) – The Second Circuit dismissed a class action accusing the East Ramapo School District of unconstitutionally funneling public money into private Orthodox Jewish institutions, holding the plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue their claims.
     By a 2-1 vote, the circuit panel dismissed claims that members the East Ramapo school board sympathetic to the interests of the Orthodox/Hasidic Jewish community had violated the First Amendment by collectively promoting the Hasidic Jewish faith in the public school setting.
     The plaintiff class consisted of parents living in the district and children attending its schools.
     Arguing that the student-plaintiffs lacked standing to assert their Establishment Clause claims because “they are only indirectly affected by the conduct alleged to violate the Establishment Clause,” the panel majority, consisting of U.S. Circuit Judges Peter Hall and Raymond Lohier reversed the district court’s decision and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the claims against the school district.
     The majority said the class action plaintiffs “lack standing to assert their Establishment Clause claims because they are only indirectly affected by the conduct alleged to violate the Establishment Clause.”
     The class claimed the school board channeled money out of the public school system and into yeshivas and other religious organizations for the benefit of the Hasidic children’s religious education.
     The plaintiffs claimed the board played fast and loose with the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act settlement process by offering preferential real estate deals to Hasidic institutions and by buying religious books including titles “I Keep Kosher” and “Let’s Go to Shul!” with public money and distributing the books to Hasidic institutions.
     The class also argued school board members are not entitled to qualified immunity.
     The East Ramapo district, located about 45 minutes northwest of New York City, has 33,000 students, but only 9,000 of them attend its schools, according to the complaint.
     The other 24,000 attend private school, nearly all of them in yeshivas, or Orthodox Jewish schools. Several Hasidic villages and hamlets are within the district’s borders.
     The lawsuit cited a 1991 fair housing lawsuit that referenced displacement of the black and Latino communities in the Ramapo district by an “exclusive white Hasidic enclave.”
     U.S. District Judge Christina Reiss, sitting by designation, wrote a dissenting opinion, arguing the Establishment Clause does not require “direct exposure” to the unconstitutional establishment of religion and that the class does have adequate standing at the pleadings stage.
     The plaintiffs are represented by Laura Barbieri from Advocates for Justice in New York City.
     Representatives of the parties did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Courthouse News.

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