ACLU-NJ v. Smith Ellis

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ), along with advocates from the national ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit to stop the state from awarding more than $11 million in taxpayer funds to two higher education institutions dedicated solely to religious training and instruction.

On April 29, 2013, the New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration released a list of 176 college construction projects it intends to aid with money from a voter-approved bond. The New Jersey Constitution forbids taxpayer funds from supporting ministries or places of worship. Yet Beth Medrash Govoha, an orthodox Jewish rabbinical school in Lakewood, is slated to receive $10.6 million from the state to pay for the construction of a new library and academic center. Similarly, Princeton Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian Christian seminary located in Princeton, is slated to receive $645,323 from the state. All courses of study at these schools prepare students to serve as religious leaders or religious educators. The New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education’s website identifies each school as a “theological institution.”

The lawsuit challenges the funding under the state constitution and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.


In May 2018, the New Jersey Supreme Court remanded the case to the Secretary of Higher Education for fact finding on questions related to the nature of the educational training by the seminary and yeshiva.

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