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Upholding Religious Liberty

Dear Editor:

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, joined other national religious organizations in filing a ‘friend of the court’ brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the decision of the Montana Supreme Court that relied upon an anti-religious state constitutional provision in striking down a Montana tax credit program that supported scholarships to attend non-public K-12 schools, including religious schools.

The “Friend of the Court” brief was filed last Wednesday in the case of Espinoza v Montana Department of Revenue. It was brought by a single mother in Montana who relied on state scholarships to help her pay tuition to keep her children enrolled in a private Christian school. The state’s 4-year-old tax credit scholarship program initially enabled economically disadvantaged families to send their children to any nonpublic school. But the Montana Department of Revenue later took action to prohibit the scholarship from being used for religious schools and the Montana Supreme Court struck down the program in its entirety due to the inclusion of use for religious schools.

The arguments in the brief filed last week centered on urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling because it improperly singles out religion as a basis to deny families benefits they otherwise qualify for and in doing so violates the First Amendment. Further, it discriminates against religious choices in generally available student-aid programs–another First Amendment violation.

Sincerely

Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America


Synagogue Security Initiative Launched

Dear Editor:

As everyone knows, violent antisemitic hate crimes have been skyrocketing across the United States. We’ve had two synagogue shootings this year, and as we approach the High Holidays, when synagogues are traditionally packed with more congregants, it’s all the more important to ensure that members are security-aware. No congregation should wait for tragedy to strike to take their own security seriously.

Therefore, Americans Against Antisemitism has partnered with two security training organizations, SecurityIntel and Sons of Liberty, to offer totally FREE training to synagogues which includes security awareness, facility walk-through assessments that expose weaknesses and blindspots, active-shooter scenario response, and tactical/safety training.

“In times like these, with violent antisemitism on the rise, we can’t rely on others to secure our places of worship, so it’s imperative that we sure up our defenses,” said Americans Against Antisemitism founder and president, Dov Hikind.

Several synagogues have already signed-up ahead of the holidays as there’s no time to lose. If your synagogue would like to schedule a free training, contact [email protected] to set it up today.

Sincerely

Americans Against Antisemitism


Can the MTA Come up With $51B?

Dear Editor:

The challenge facing the MTA is how to come up with $51 billion to pay for the next 2020–2024 Five Year Capital Plan without going to debtors prison. A significant portion is dependent upon a number of taxes and fees including Real Estate Transfer and Internet Sales Tax along with Congestion Price Tolling which combined equal $25 billion plus $10.7 billion in anticipated Federal Transit Administration funding. There is no guarantee of FTA providing $3.5 billion in New Starts funding for Second Avenue Subway Phase 2. Congestion Pricing does not kick in until January 2021 or the second year of a five year capital program. The final details of who will pay what have yet to be worked out. In the meantime, many elected officials are lobbying for exemptions for those who provide essential services such as police, fire or teachers, low income, outer borough suburban and out of state residents, seniors, physically challenged, small commercial based delivery businesses or other special niches. Some of these exemptions will be adopted to placate different elected officials’ constituents.

As a result, the MTA may not be able to count on all $15 billion in congestion pricing funding. A downturn in the economy could also result in less revenue from the Real Estate Transfer, Internet Sales (how will this be collected) and other tax income sources. The MTA could easily end up with a shortfall in the billions. The real battle is between reaching a state of good repair versus system expansion. There are many higher priorities than the $7 billion Second Avenue Subway Phase 2 project. Why not postpone this project until the 2025–2029 Five Year Capital Plan? Use billions in local funds designated for this project instead to accelerate bringing more subway stations up to a state of good repair and into compliance with ADA by adding elevators.

The MTA must stop wasting millions on transportation feasibility studies for future system expansion projects that will never happen in our lifetime. Do not initiate any new system expansion projects until each operating agency, NYC Transit bus and subway, MTA bus, Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Rail Road have reached a state of good repair for existing fleet, stations, elevators, escalators, signals, interlockings, track, power, yards and shops. This should also include insuring a majority of subway and commuter rail stations are in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities (ADA) Act. Ensure that maintenance programs for all operating agencies assets are fully funded and completed on time to ensure riders safe uninterrupted reliable service. Has adequate funding been provided to support all of the above in the $51 billion MTA Five Year 2020–2024 Capital Plan? If we are lucky, perhaps a down payment.

Sincerely,

Larry Penner

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