Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, through its Institute for Public Affairs, joined with other organizations concerned with religious liberty and asked the United States Supreme Court to review the latest opinion of New York’s supreme court invalidating the creation of the Kiryas Joel School District. The Union, along with the Catholic League for Civil Rights, joined in a friend of the court brief drafted by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in support of Kiryas Joel’s request to the Court that they hear this case for a second time.
Kiryas Joel has had an independent school district designed to serve the educationally challenged children of its community with secular special education classes for almost ten years. The creation of that district, however, has been the subject of continuous litigation brought by those who view any state aid to religious communities, even aid that provides only secular assistance, as a violation of the Establishment Clause.
The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the creation of the district in 1994, reasoning that the statute creating the district was so narrowly drafted that it would only benefit the Satmar community of Kiryas Joel and was thus directly advancing religion. In the wake of that decision, New York State passed a more broadly crafted bill which permits “any municipality situated wholly within one central school district but whose boundaries are not coterminous with the boundaries of such school district [to] organize a new school district whenever required by the educational interests of the community.”
The statute sets forth a range of neutral criteria that must be met in order to qualify for the creation of such a new school district. New York State’s highest court struck down that bill earlier this year asserting that the bill had an “invalid origin” inasmuch as it sought to achieve the same goal as the earlier legislation creating the Kiryas Joel district.
The brief in which the Orthodox Union has joined asserts that the U.S. Supreme Court should take this case and rule in favor of Kiryas Joel because the New York court’s reasoning is inconsistent with the role of the judiciary in our constitutional system. The brief notes that while “Marbury v. Madison established the.concept of judicial review as well as set in motion a process of dialogue between the courts and the legislatures.” The New York court has short-circuited this constitutional process by asserting that the legislature may no longer attempt to pass legislation addressing the needs of communities like Kiryas Joel. A decision from the high court is expected this summer.