Jews and other religious minorities should be wary of efforts to create "the highest possible wall of separation between church and state,'' William Bradford Reynolds, head of the U.S. Justice Department's civil-rights division, told a group of rabbis at a recent meeting in Florida.
"The wall of separation can perhaps be built so high that the interests of the Jewish community are more harmed than helped,'' the assistant attorney general said in a May 5 speech to the Central Conference of American Rabbis. He added that "radical separationism stands in the way of religious education, which is an important safeguard for Jewish identity.''
In his speech, Mr. Reynolds harshly criticized the U.S. Supreme Court's 1985 decision that barred school districts from sending public-school teachers into church-affiliated schools to teach Chapter 1 remedial courses. The ruling in the case, Aguilar v. Felton, "is a lingering burden on all citizens who want to exercise their right to provide their children with religious education,'' he said.
He also said the three-part test used by the Court since 1971 for determining the constitutionality of state action regarding religion "has no legitimate roots in the First Amendment.''
Citing predictions of an impending teacher shortage and the example of other career-oriented magnet schools, the president of the teachers' union in New York City has called on the school district to create a special high school to help attract students to teaching careers.
Speaking at the annual conference of the United Federation of Teachers last week, the head of the union, Sandra Feldman, said that a high school for teaching could draw more minority students into the profession and could help alleviate a projected teacher shortage. Over the next 5 to 10 years, Ms. Feldman said, nearly half of the city's 62,000 teachers will be eligible for retirement.
Such a school could also serve as an "induction'' school for new teachers, she said.
Noting that New York City has magnet schools for a variety of other professions, Ms. Feldman said, "How ironic that the school system encourages its students to enter every profession but education.''
A spokesman for the city's board of education said the president of the board, Robert F. Wagner Jr., has spoken in favor of the proposal but has taken no further action.