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Split on Church-State Case

Jewish organizations are gearing up for a landmark Supreme Court church-state case, following Monday’s decision by the court to hear an appeal regarding government funding for religious education.

The case involves Joshua Davey, a theology student in the state of Washington who applied for a state grant to help pay his tuition at Northwest College, which is affiliated with the Assemblies of God. The state of Washington initially approved a $1,125 grant for Davey in 1999, but later rescinded the grant once it learned that the money would be used to study theology. The state constitution does not allow public money to be used for religious instruction.

Davey sued Washington and lost in state Supreme Court. He appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court in San Francisco and won, mainly on the basis of last year’s Supreme Court ruling on school vouchers, which said that using tax dollars to cover religious school tuition was permissible. Washington Governor Gary Locke appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that although the Supreme Court ruled that states may fund children’s education in schools with religious affiliations, the Constitution does not require the state to fund religious instruction.

Jewish organizations have thus far stayed out of the Davey case. Now, however, they expect to get involved. “This, potentially, is revolutionary,” said Marc Stern, associate executive director of the American Jewish Congress. “If the appeal is rejected, the law would be turned on its head. Instead of ruling that the government may use public funds for private institutions, this will say that you must use it in religious institutions as well. Not doing so would be discrimination against religion.” The AJCongress, Stern said, will probably file an amicus brief.

The Anti-Defamation League’s assistant director of legal affairs, Steven Sheinberg, said his organization will likely follow suit. On the opposing side, Nathan Diament, who directs the Orthodox Union’s Institute of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., said his group is likely to file a brief in support of Davey.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to discuss the issue in its next term, which begins in October.

Vote on AIDS Bill Welcomed

Jewish groups welcomed Congress’s vote to approve President Bush’s $15 billion drive to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. The Senate last week passed the Global AIDS Bill, codifying the president’s five-year plan to fight the disease that has so far afflicted 42 million people worldwide, 29.4 million of them in Africa.

“We applaud the president for his leadership on that. This is precisely what has been lacking,” said Amy Goldstein, Hadassah’s director of international affairs. Hadassah is directly involved in the issue; the organization’s Jerusalem-based AIDS clinic runs a treatment and education program in conjunction with a hospital in Addis Ababa.

However, the bill still raises two major concerns, Goldstein said.

One is “the restrictions that the bill puts on the use of the money.” The bill mandates that 55% of direct aid go to treatment programs, 20% to prevention, 15% to palliative care and 10% to children orphaned by the disease. House conservatives also amended the bill so that one-third of prevention funding will go to abstinence programs, and religious groups will not be denied funding if they oppose condom distribution.

“As providers, it concerns us that these funds may be a little constricted,” Goldstein said. “Decreasing the prevention budget by a third, that’s a lot of money.”

Another concern, Goldstein said, is that the bill targets only Africa and the Caribbean, ignoring such countries as China and India, where AIDS is spreading rapidly.

Group Fighting ‘Laci’s Bill’

The National Council of Jewish Women is urging its members to oppose the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, a bill reintroduced in Congress last week that would allow charging an assailant of a pregnant woman — if her fetus is injured or killed during an assault — with a second offense on behalf of the “unborn child.”

The bill was already approved by the House of Representatives in 1999 but never found its way to the Senate. With President Bush’s blessing, it has now been reintroduced in an apparent attempt by congressional conservatives to utilize public sympathy surrounding the murder of 27-year-old Laci Peterson of Modesto, Calif., last December.

Peterson was eight months pregnant when she left home on December 24, 2002. She never came back. Her body washed up near San Francisco in mid-April. Her husband, Scott, is held as a murder suspect. Since a California statute already covers the “unborn” in such cases, Scott Peterson is charged under state law with murdering not only his wife, but also his unborn son, who was to be named Conner.

The newly revived congressional bill attempts to emulate the California law in federal legislation.

“This attempt to recognize a zygote, an embryo and/or a fetus as a person, distinct from the pregnant woman, is a back-door attack on reproductive rights,” said an NCJW action alert. “Further, the bill… ignores the fact that any assault that harms a pregnancy is inherently an attack on the woman.”

The Peterson’s family has endorsed the measure, which is now being referred to as “Laci and Conner’s bill.”

U.S., Germany Sign Pact

The United States and Germany signed a joint declaration on Monday committing to protect and preserve sites associated with victims of the Holocaust.

The agreement, negotiated by the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, outlines the commitment of the American and German governments to cultural preservation of, among other sites, cemeteries, houses of worship and other “places of commemoration.”

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