Two Religious Schools in New Jersey May Receive More Than $11,000,000 in Taxpayer Money

Governor Chris Christie’s administration in New Jersey recently proposed how to spend more than $1,300,000,000 in “construction projects at colleges and universities.” What’s not up for debate is the amount of money — the voters approved funding the state’s institutions of higher learning for most of this amount (later combined with other technology and infrastructure funds) back in November. What is up for debate is how all that money should be doled out — which schools should get how much? That’s a conversation the people of New Jersey need to have with their representatives and it’s one that state representatives are having with the Governor’s administration.

What’s particularly noteworthy to those of us who support church/state separation are two of the 46 proposed recipients. They’re both religious schools:

Don’t let his administration get away with this!

$10.6 million [is proposed] for Beth Medrash Govoha, an all-male Orthodox Jewish rabbinical school in Lakewood, and $645,313 [is proposed] for Princeton Theological Seminary, a 200-year-old school that trains male and female Christian ministers.

How is that legal? Why is more than $11,000,000 going to private religious schools? Why is the state giving money to schools that discriminate when they hire faculty?

State representatives want some answers to that, too:

State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) questioned whether the award to Princeton Theological Seminary is legal. The money for the seminary is scheduled to come from the state’s Higher Education Technology Infrastructure Fund, even though the legislation for the fund says such awards can only go to state-funded institutions, Sarlo said.

“It appears it’s in conflict with the rules and regulations,” said Sarlo, chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

After the hearing, Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, said the grant to the seminary is “under review.”

So far, Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks isn’t answering any questions about why taxpayers should have to cover schools that only admit students of certain faiths.

I am not going to comment any further. Thank you,” Hendricks said, cutting off questions from frustrated state senators.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) said jokingly, “It’s a transparent process that is totally secret.”

The state legislature has the power to do something about this. Considering that millions of dollars are about to be used to promote religion — putting the legislation in Constitutional jeopardy and putting the state on the hook for all the legal costs — they need to do the right thing and vote down the entire proposal. (It’s all or nothing.)

One twist to the whole story: Christie had good reason to offer the Jewish school that much cash:

The higher education bond bill, introduced last June 14 and co-sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-Union), allowed public and private universities to get funds. Lawmakers said private universities like Seton Hall were eligible, but explicitly excluded “any educational institution dedicated primarily to the education or training of ministers, priests, rabbis or other professional persons in the field of religion.”

Beth Medrash Govoha has long employed one of the top lobbyists in Trenton, Dale Florio, head of Princeton Public Affairs Group, to pursue its interests, Election Law Enforcement records show. Florio met with lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate seeking changes to the bill, records show. Princeton Public Affairs was paid $25,000 by Beth Medrash Govoha last year, according to the firm’s annual report.

On June 21, Sweeney amended the bill and struck the religious exclusion, legislative records show. The amended bill passed both houses days later and voters approved the bond referendum in November.

That means the money offered to the Jewish school may be technically legal. Still, though, the policy implications are huge. You can’t give tons of money to a Jewish school and then say no to the Christian school. You can’t give money to religious schools at all and then say there’s a separation of church and state.

If you live in New Jersey, contact your representatives and tell them to reject this proposal immediately.

(Thanks to GodVlogger for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Words Have Meanings

    State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) said jokingly, “It’s a transparent process that is totally secret.”

    – my state senator, heh.

  • Counter Apologist

    Thank you for including the link to contact our state representatives in the article, I just did so.

  • Mick

    Now that there is money floating around, you can be sure the religious schools will find a way to get it. They’ve got friends in high places.

  • Brian Westley

    “That means the money offered to the Jewish school may be technically legal.”

    I doubt that; it just means the current bill doesn’t exclude them. That doesn’t mean it’s legal.

  • A3Kr0n

    People have fought and died to not have this happen. Why is this now happening? Do we need to fight and die again???

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Hemant: Thanks for adding a link to where N.J. residents can contact their legislators. Great idea!

    To those in New Jersey: Here is some sample text that you can copy/paste/edit if it makes it easier for you to efficiently communicate to your state representatives…

    Copy/Paste/Edit from below:

    As one of your constituents, I am dismayed to hear that Gov. Christie has proposed using over $11-million of state/taxpayer funds to fund religious education in New Jersey.

    This diverts much-needed funding from other schools in the state. This also puts the state at risk for lawsuits or other legal challenges since using taxpayer money to fund religions and religious education violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against government entanglement with religion (i.e., it violates what is colloquially known as the “Separation of Church and State”). Even if the NJ Legislature tries to allow such funding of religions, it will be open to legal challenge in federal courts.

    The Star Ledger and other local and national media are watching this violation very closely. (See:

    The problem is that the Governor’s proposal includes money for two religious training institutions: $10.6 million for Beth Medrash Govoha, an all-male Orthodox Jewish rabbinical school in Lakewood, and $645,313 for Princeton Theological Seminary, a school that trains Christian ministers.

    Why would the N.J. government want to get into the business of paying to train ministers and rabbis? Aside from the illegality, it opens the floodgates to requests to then similarly pay to train Wiccan priestesses, Islamic imams/mullahs, Hindu gurus/swamis/yogis, Scientology leaders, etc. Where will it end? How would we make it fair across all religions and across all sects within each religion? How would the state decide which religions to fund and which ones NOT to fund? The simple solution is that the government should stay OUT of the religion business.

    I urge you to work with the Governor’s office and with your fellow legislators to restore transparency and legality to the distribution of these much-needed funds for higher education.

    Please do NOT use taxpayer funds for government sponsorship/endorsement of religious education.

    Thank you.

  • Tobias Dahlberg

    Come live in Sweden. We have none of this stuff. I’m equallly baffled each time I read about propositions and events like this. It’s insane.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)


    For New Jersey folks who want to contact your state representative, I have typed up and posted a comment on this blog that includes a sample text that you can copy/paste/edit, to make it even easier for you to let your legislators know to work against this government funding of religious education.

  • Stev84

    One of them isn’t even a school, but a place where adults train to be clergy.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Be sure to contact your Senator voice your support!

    For New Jersey folks who want to contact your state representative, I
    have typed up and posted a comment on this blog that includes a sample
    text that you can copy/paste/edit, to make it even easier for you to let
    your legislators know to work against this government funding of
    religious education.

  • Morgan Landin

    Aldrig hört talas om religiösa friskolor ? Vem tror du finaniserar dem, om inte vi icke-troende skattebetalare ?

  • realist1953

    State, Or Federal, money to religious schools is bad enough – to ones that are so restrictive in hiring and enrollment is astounding!

    This is something that many “founding fathers” were AGAINST [look it up] but now we twist the past into whatever the current ‘right wing’ wants.

    This needs to STOP NOW!!

  • baal

    This was my issue on reading the op. How does training to be a pastor/rabbi count as secular higher ed?

  • Gus Snarp

    Not just religious schools, but schools that teach religion almost exclusively. I would not be happy if the money was going to a Catholic University, for example, but there’s at least an argument to be made in favor of that, since it still may provide a quality education and help lead to having a better educated, more productive work force in New Jersey.

    But a seminary and a rabbinical school? They produce leaches, not well rounded citizens with strong job skills.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    Yes, because society does not need more professionals who do work based in reality. No, what they need are more Rabbis and Ministers. Would love to hear what exactly they are saying to justify that money. What benefit to society will this serve?

  • cipher

    Beth Medrash Govoha is a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshiva that encourages full-time, lifelong study of religious texts for Jewish men, regardless of whether or not they have an aptitude for it. It doesn’t provide its them with a secular education, and institutions of that sort discourage them from obtaining it elsewhere. The men receive small stipends from the school (in Israel they’re supported by the state, but thankfully that appears, finally and after decades of controversy, to be coming slowly to an end), yet they insist upon having large families (a dozen children or more is common) for which they cannot provide, forcing them to avail themselves of social services. In addition, the wives often work part time while trying to rear huge broods of children.

    The ultra-Orthodox have been gaming the system for decades (this business with the grant is just one example). In areas in which they congregate in large numbers (such as Lakewood and Brooklyn), many – probably the majority – make prodigious use of support programs such as welfare, Section 8 and public housing, food stamps, etc. However, you never hear politicians complain about them in the way they complain about other ethnic groups that are disproportionately represented on the social service rolls, as Haredim generally comprise an important voting bloc. They’re brought up from birth to be nearly incapable of independent thought; they do whatever their rabbis and communal leaders tell them to do, and vote for whomever they tell them to vote.

    It’s a toxic subculture that is gradually collapsing under its own weight, but it’s taking a painfully long time to die and in the meantime, generation after generation of children is being brought up in ignorance and repression.

  • Eva Linder

    Eller hur….

  • WallofSleep

    I guess the silver lining in all of this is that these kinds of sectarian indoctrination centers are no longer profitable on their own, and must petition the state for their continued existence.

    I know, I know. Wishful thinning on my part.

  • jdm8

    That’s a lot of money with no apparent justification.

  • allein

    Looks like Senator Beck will be getting a version of this later today…Thanks!

  • allein

    My friend’s sister went to Princeton Seminary. While she’s a wonderful person, and a very liberal pastor, I heard her preach last year and I was still bothered by some of what she was saying. (They played a little game with the kids during the service, wherein they basically told them they were sheep, which was bothersome enough… then in her sermon she was talking about how she doesn’t like to be called a sheep…I don’t know what emoticon would convey the look on my face at that.)

  • Graniah Macphearson

    If tax payers money goes to fund these religious schools, I think they should lose their tax-exempt status.

  • Aarron Dixon

    An educational grant going to religious fundamentalists… why not have a math grant go to people who don’t believe in numbers, pfft! What an insulting waste of taxpayer funds.

  • Richard Wade

    So the state of New Jersey wants to give millions to a factory that cranks out rabbis, and another factory that cranks out ministers.

    What? no public millions for a factory that cranks out priests? How about money for a factory that cranks out imams? And a separate one for mullahs? Or one for gurus? Hey, let’s not forget a factory chunking away to produce bhikkhus.

    Screw all that science, technology, engineering and math crap. New Jersey can be the shaman producing capital of the world. That’s an export that will make New Jersey a global economic powerhouse.

  • Rhett J Dudley

    Hey you cant give money to private schools separation of church and state or did you forget that one in law class. More morons who run this country into the ground people need to stand up to politicians and stop this bullshit.

  • Rhett J Dudley

    Yea its all batshit crazy america is becoming more religious and less intelligent.

  • Spuddie

    Plus Christie has national ambitions. Its never too early for him to kiss the religious rights collective ass. He already killed the gay marriage bill despite overwhelming support in the state.

  • Spuddie

    Its typical Christie. Divert funds which could go to things which are actually useful for NJ residents and put it towards cronies and people who will help his future ambitions. The sooner the SOB is voted out of office, the better.

  • Spuddie

    Thanks. I sent my message out.

  • grandmas

    Supposedly during the Bush Administration Dick Cheney went to Lakewood,New Jersey and was awarded 1 million dollars cash as a campaign contribution from the Orthodox conservative community. Is this “grant” payback?

  • Skeptic Fence

    Please explain to me how america is become more religious? Polls since 2005 state otherwise.

  • grandmas

    There’s more coming out about the Orthodox of Lakewood New Jersey. Here’s what I’ve heard Today and this has to do with Gov. Chris Christie, who’s a former prosecutor. Each rabbinical student there has two names of identification; their Hebrew name and their real name such as Tom Jones.But here’s where it gets really interesting.Many of the townhomes the so-called rabbinical students live in are owned by a parent. The rabbinical student then applies for HUD Section 8 housing for a subsidy and “rents” our the parents town home. Because the students are always lifelong students the HUD Subsidy actually pays for the mortgage.When the mortgage is paid the parent signs over the home to the rabbinical student.The rabbinical students children by this time are adult and the process goes on and on. Here’s what HUD says:

    On December 30, 2005, HUD published a final rule (FR-5036-F-01), entitled, “Eligibility of Students for Assisted Housing Under Section 8 of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937,” implementing section 327 of the Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year (FY) 2006. The final rule became effective January 30, 2006. In brief, the law and final rule require that if a student is enrolled at an institution of higher education, is under the age of 24, is not a veteran, is unmarried and does not have a dependent child, is individually ineligible for section 8 assistance, or the student’s parents are, individually or jointly, ineligible for assistance, no section 8 assistance can be provided to the student.

  • Gringa

    I was born in Lakewood, not because I’m Jewish but because there is a hospital there. There was a boy in my HS who lived with his mom and 5 siblings in a small 1br house, and I believe she worked to support them all. His dad lived in Lakewood and studied religion. He told us his dad slept over a total of 6 times. This is what is taught at that school and what they consider normal. I can’t believe that the state is going to give them millions of dollars.

  • cipher

    What you’re describing is very common. With regard to the state grant, politicians in New Jersey and New York are completely intimidated by the ultra-Orthodox because they tend to vote in blocs for whomever their rabbis tell them to vote.