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-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- SUPREME COURT TO HEAR APPEAL BY HASIDIC COMMUNITY -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- WASHINGTON (UPI) -- In what could be another test of church-state separation, the Supreme Court Monday agreed to hear the case of a New York school district set up solely to teach disabled children of a Jewish sect. Kiryas Joel is a largely isolated, Yiddish-speaking community inhabited entirely by members of the Satmar Hasidic sect. Most of the nearly 100 school-age students of the Kiryas Village School District are taught in the Satmar Hasidic parochial schools. But disabled students had to go to classes in nearby public schools. Because Kiryas Joel is an extremely conservative community, its disabled children were "traumatized by their experiences in attending the...schools outside the village," according to a petition before the Supreme Court. After some legal wranglig between the community and the public school district, the New York legislature stepped in to try to solve the problem. As a result, the legislature set up the Kiryas Joel Village School District in Orange County in 1989 to serve the approximately 10 disabled students present in the community. Gov. Mario Cuomo, D-N.Y., signed the bill setting up the new school district "to reduce community tension," but warned the district that it would have to go out of its way to avoid a constitutional conflict. Two top officials of the New York State School Boards Association brought suit against the Kiryas Yoel Village School District in January 1990, charging that it violated the separation of church and state in both the U.S. and New York constitutions. The New York courts agreed that the district violated U.S. Supreme Court precedent. According to the village school district petition, the residents of Kiryas Yoel "are Satmar Hasidic Jews -- devoutly religious people who believe in maintaining an insular community where religious ritual is scrupulously followed..." Satmar Hasidic community members have "distinctive dress and appearance," don't watch television and separate boys and girls into single-gender parochial schools. The village school district, however, teaches co-ed special education classes. According to the Satmar Hasidim, no one is excluded from the village on grounds of race or religion, but so far no one except members of the sect has chosen to live there. State school board association officials Louis Grumet and Albert W. Hawk contend that the Kiryas Joel School District violates the First Amendment under the conditions set up by the Supreme Court in Lemon vs. Kurtzman in 1971. New York appeals courts agreed with Grumet and Hawk, saying that the special district violated what is known as the "Lemon test," because it does not demonstrably serve a secular purpose, and it represented an unconstitutional blending of church and state. However, in a number of decisions last term, the Supreme Court ruled that the "Lemon test" does not allow discrimination against a religion when there is no similar secular discrimination. Argument in the case will probably be heard next spring or fall. ============================================================== WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to reconsider its longstanding rule for enforcing the constitutionally required separation of church and state. The court voted to use a case involving a New York school district created for children of a Hasidic Jewish community to re-examine its landmark 1971 ruling on how far government may go to accommodate religious beliefs or practices. The high court has relied on that ruling in deciding many church-state issues over the past 22 years. In the case accepted for review Monday, New York courts ruled that the creation of the Kiryas Joel Village School District was an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. The justices could have granted review and limited the issues in the case to avoid reconsidering the 1971 ruling. But Monday's order reflected no such limitation. The high court has allowed the district to continue operating pending final action in the case. The court's 1971 ruling in Lemon vs. Kurtzman said laws or government practices are unconstitutional if they have a religious purpose, primarily advance or promote religion, or excessively entangle government and religion. New York legislators created the Kiryas Joel district in 1989 to resolve a dispute over how to educate disabled children in the Orange County village. Almost all village residents are members of the Satmar Hasidic sect, a devoutly religious group that maintains an insular community where religious ritual and distinctive dress are observed, Yiddish is often spoken instead of English, and girls and boys are educated separately. Most of the children in the village attend religious schools. Disabled Hasidic children had attended class in the public Monroe-Woodbury Central School District. But their parents withdrew them, saying they were traumatized by going to school outside the Kiryas Joel village. The new public Kiryas Joel district was created to accomodate their needs. It teaches a secular curriculum to mixed classes of girls and boys, and all of its teachers live outside the village. Officials of the New York State School Boards Association challenged the creation of the district, saying it was a constitutionally impermissible accommodation of the Jewish sect's beliefs. A state judge and mid-level appeals court ruled that creation of the district violated the Constitution, and the state's highest court agreed. "The primary effect ... (is) to yield to the demands of a religious community whose separatist tenets create a tension between the needs of its handicapped children and the need to adhere to certain religious practices," the state Court of Appeals said. The Monroe-Woodbury district and state Attorney General Robert Abrams joined the Kiryas Joel school district in appealing that ruling. The law creating the school district "has, at most, the effect of accommodating the needs of a community of devoutly religious people," the Kiryas Joel appeal said. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that such accommodations do not necessarily violate the Constitution, it added. Government can accommodate religious concerns as long as it does not directly aid or subsidize a religious institution, added the Monroe-Woodbury district's lawyers. But lawyers for the state School Boards Association officials said the main effect of creating the Kiryas Joel district was "to involve the state in sponsorship of Satmar separatist precepts." That "violates the very core of constitutional prescriptions for the separation of church and state," they said. The cases are Board of Education of Kiryas Joel vs. Grumet, 93-517; Board of Education of Monroe-Woodbury vs. Grumet, 93-527, and Attorney General of New York vs. Grumet, 93-539.

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