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December 26, 2003 - Image 35

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-12-26

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Editorials are posted and archived on JN Online:

Keeping A Promise


ormally, when a lawsuit makes it all the way to
the U.S. Supreme Court, it presents really
tough issues. But the case of a Washington
State University student who was denied a merit schol-
arship because he was going to use it for his religious
instruction is almost a no-brainer.
Common sense and the "establishment" clause of
the Constitution are clear: We don't want the govern-
ment subsidizing any particular religion. If you think
that's wrong public policy, think about Saudi Arabia's
support for the extremist Wahabi -form of Islam and all
the mischief that has let loose on the world. At the end
of the road lies the Taliban, hardly what we want for
our democracy.
But that isn't the issue in Joshua Davey's action
against the way the state of Washington's ban on public
financing of religious instruction. His argument rests
on the simple premise that government needs to be
neutral about religion and that he was entitled to use a
scholarship that he had earned for whatever instruction
he chose.
He's right.
The aim of the scholarship program is to reward aca-
demically successful students so that they will continue
their educations. It shouldn't make any difference
whether they want to study physics or metaphysics.
In the argument before the Supreme
Court earlier this month, a number of jus-
tices expressed fears that overturning the
state decision would, in effect, be requiring
the state to underwrite religion. Justice
Stephen G. Breyer was worried that a reversal would
mean that every government program "not just educa-
tional programs, but nursing programs, hospital pro-
grams, social welfare programs, contracting programs
throughout the government" would be told that they
could not remain purely secular and that "they must
fund all religions who want to do the same thing."

The difference is that
the scholarship program
does not fund institutions
or agencies: It helps indi-
viduals. Even if hundreds
of Washington State stu-
dents who qualified for
the scholarship all decided
to train at a single semi-
nary, the state would not
be establishing that reli-
gion as a favored one.
If an institution is
helped indirectly, that's
not an unbearable conse-
quence. We have no trou-
ble accepting the income
and property tax-exemp-
tion for churches, along
with all other charities.
The Washington Promise
Scholarship isn't a general
school vouchers program;
it's more like the
Cleveland tuition voucher
program, which provides for participation by parochial
school. The Supreme Court upheld that program in
The case comes at a bad time in America's
long struggle with religion and political
action. The Christian right has demanded
government. action — prayer and "creation science" in
school, banning abortions and stem cell research,
opposition to women's and gay rights — with no
regard to what a terrible precedent it sets to have pub-
lic policy determined by a single creed. A Supreme
Court decision that opened the door to all of the Bush
administration's "faith-based" initiatives would be terri-

Got A Light?

should immediately relinquish control in favor
tants from Sinai were moved and resettled as
of a peace treaty with its Arab neighbors.
part of the peace treaty signed on to by Egypt
The Sinai was built up with 15 settlements,
and Israel.
including the seaside settlement of Yamit. By
There are about 16 settlement communities
the end of the 1970s, there were a few thou-
on the Gaza Strip, about 5,000 inhabitants
sand settlers in the Sinai. The Sinai had settlers
who believe they are there for reasons of a
who went there for several reasons: cheap hous-
greater Israel, Zionist expansionist, cheap
ing, religious beliefs of a greater Israel, Zionist
housing, etc. These settlements are completely
expansion beliefs, the desire to live unfettered
encircled by Palestinian villages, towns and
by big city life.
refugee centers, many of which have been
,Whatever the reason, those who settled in
there since before the founding of the State of
Sinai went undeterred by rumors that the
Israel. Close to 1.5 million Palestinians live in
longevity of this endeavor might not last.
this little strip of land completely isolated and
Indeed, as a result of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's
fenced in apart from Israel, with secure borders guarded
courageous announcement and subsequent visit to
by Israeli forces.
Israel as well as the peace treaty signed by him and
What if Israel went into Gaza and, like they did thir-
Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the Israeli govern-
ty years ago, removed and resettled the Israelis from
ment began the process of dismantling and re-settling
these isolated settlements? What if Prime Minister
the Jewish population of the Sinai.
Sharon said to Abu Ma, the current Palestinian prime
Ariel Sharon, then an Israeli general, was in charge
minister, "Look, we've gone nowhere with the peace
of going into Yamit and, in some cases, forcibly remov- process. The road map is in shambles, my people are
ing settlers to settlements in Israel proper. There were
splintered and your people are getting more radical
uproars and denouncements, heads shaking both in
every day. Yasser Arafat has done nothing to reign in
pride and in dismay. In all, more than 5,000 inhabi-
ELYAKIN on page 37



Ann Arbor
ay what you want, the Jewish community will
always look upon the goings on in Israel and
alternately either shake their heads in dismay or
nod in approval. However they react, the Jewish com-
munity will always say they support the people of
We look upon our history and our liturgy and are
proud of our heritage, our unwavering commitment to
being the light unto nations. Isaiah wrote that Israel
would bring light to the rest of the world.
But what if the "light onto nations" flickers and is
no longer that flame of morality, that bright and shin-
ing example of humanity that was the model for
nations and peoples worldwide?
After the 1967 Six-Day War and Israel gained con-
trol of much of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan
Heights . and Sinai Peninsula, it was argued that Israel


Neal Elyakin, a Washtenaw County educator, is vice
president of the Michigan Jewish Conference and a founder
of the Michigan Chapter of the Israel Defense Forces.

Greenberg's View



But the court doesn't have to tear down the barrier
between church and state to resolve this case fairly. All
it needs to say is that when an individual meets the
state-set criteria of need or achievement, the govern-
ment has no business trying to figure out how the
individual might use the aid.
By the way, Davey completed his religious studies
and then went on to graduate work. We is a law stu-
dent at Harvard. Would the Supreme Court have let
Washington State turn him down if he said he wanted
to be a lawyer?




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