Religious Schools Should Receive State Funds for Special Education—Even in California

A group of Jewish parents and schools have taken to federal court to challenge a California law forbidding “sectarian” educational institutions from receiving money for special-education programs to which secular private schools are entitled. Michael A. Helfand explains their case:

Over the past two decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has not only made clear the First Amendment allows states to include religious schools in government-funding programs; it has also made clear that once a state makes funding generally available to private schools, excluding religious schools constitutes religious discrimination prohibited by the First Amendment.

As a result, the challenge to California’s legal regime is likely to ensure not only that Jewish institutions can work alongside the state to support special needs, but also that religious institutions cannot be discriminated against when it comes to government funding. Religious families with children with special needs will hopefully no longer have to choose between the care their children need and their religious observance.

For much of the 20th century, this sort of religious exclusion was viewed as constitutionally necessary in order to preserve separation between church and state. Under prevailing legal doctrine at the time, the Supreme Court viewed allowing government funds to flow to religious institutions as impermissibly entangling church and state.

But at the turn of the 21st century, the Supreme Court’s view began to shift. Instead of interpreting separation of church and state to prohibit such funding, the Supreme Court argued that such separation could be achieved simply by treating religious institutions neutrally. Thus, religious institutions should not receive more funding than similarly situated institutions; but if they received equal funding on equal terms as their secular counterparts, all was constitutionally kosher.

Read more at Forward

More about: American law, California, Freedom of Religion, Jewish education

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood