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World and Nation Briefs

Court to Decide If School District Violates Church, State Separation

The Washington Post


The Supreme Court Monday agreed to decide whether the creation of a special public school district to accommodate a tightly knit community of Hasidic Jews violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

In doing so, the court voted to reconsider its controversial 1971 decision that established a restrictive test for courts to use in judging whether governments could accommodate religious activities without violating the constitution.

A New York state court said the creation of a special district for about 200 learning disabled children in Orange County, about 30 miles northwest of New York City, was unconstitutional because it was set up to meet the demands of a religious community, rather than primarily to provide education. By taking the case, the Supreme Court has cast some doubt on that ruling.

A majority of the current justices have criticized the 1971 standard as being ambiguous and more disadvantageous to church groups than necessary.

The Constitution says that government "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Since 1971, the court has interpreted this to mean that a government action must have a secular purpose; its primary effect must neither advance nor inhibit religion; and it must not foster "excessive entanglement" with religion.

Lawyers for the special school district have asked the court to overturn this standard. If so, it could lead to more governmental accomodation of religious activities.

N.J. Democratic Committee Drops Challenge to Whitman's Election

The Washington Post


After two weeks of investigation, the New Jersey Democratic committee Monday dropped its legal challenge to Republican Christine Todd Whitman's election as governor.

The party had sued for a new election after Whitman's former campaign manager, Washington political consultant Edward J. Rollins told reporters that the campaign had spent $500,000 on election day in an attempt to suppress the black vote.

But after a wide-ranging investigation and separate depositions of both Rollins and Whitman's brother and former campaign manager Webster Todd, attorneys for the Democrats could come up with no evidence to support Rollins's claim that the campaign had paid Democratic party workers and black ministers to forego their usual election day activities on behalf of Florio.

Rollins said during the deposition that his comments were a deliberate fabrication, intended to taunt his rival, James Carville, who served as the consultant to Whitman's opponent, Democratic Gov. James Florio. Todd, for his part, stated in testimony Friday that the steps taken by the Whitman campaign to keep the vote light in black areas were in fact legitimate political tactics.

IRA Wanted Truce Offer Kept Secret

The Washington Post


The Irish Republican Army offered an "unannounced cease-fire" and talks toward a permanent peace in Northern Ireland earlier this year, but wanted the offer kept secret because of concern it would be seen as a surrender, British officials said Monday.

The IRA, which has waged a bloody 25-year battle to drive the British out of Northern Ireland and reunite the province with the Republic of Ireland, said last February it was prepared to promise "privately" that its campaign of violence would end, "as long as we were sure that we were not being tricked."

This version of the IRA's peace overtures was released by the British government Monday amid continued controversy over a series of secret talks between emissaries sent by Prime Minister John Major and the IRA.

It was revealed over the weekend that despite repeated denials by Major and his aides, such talks have been taking place for months. In defending the contacts, officials said they had a duty to take risks in the search for an end to a bitter sectarian conflict that has cost more than 3,000 lives.

Disclosure of the talks angered Protestant loyalists, who oppose any negotiations with the Catholic IRA and want Northern Ireland to remain part of Great Britain. The issue sparked dramatic scenes in the House of Commons Monday, as the Rev. Ian Paisley, a fiery loyalist, was ejected for breaching parliamentary etiquette by accusing government officials of lying about their contacts with the IRA. Major, for example, said recently it "would turn my stomach" to talk with the IRA, despite his having maintained a dialogue with the group for at least nine months.