House Speaker Tells NY Rabbanim ‘I’m With You 100%’ in Fighting Yeshiva Regulations

By Reuvain Borchardt

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) vowed to oppose New York state’s curriculum mandates on yeshivas, telling a group of rabbanim who met with him in Westchester, “I’m with you 100%.”

Johnson was in New York over the weekend for a series of fundraisers, including one on Sunday in Westchester for Rep. Mike Lawler, a vulnerable freshman Republican in a majority-Democrat district. Lawler, whose upset victory last year was achieved largely on the basis of heavy Orthodox Jewish support, has been among Congress’ most outspoken supporters of Jewish causes and against New York’s regulations on private schools.

On the request of New York rabbanim, Lawler arranged the meeting with the rabbanim and Johnson in Westchester.

Freedom of religion is “our first freedom; it’s clearly the first one listed in the Bill of Rights in our Constitution,” Johnson said. “And the reason the Founding Fathers put it there is because they understood [that] next to our life, the most important value we have is the right to the free exercise of our religion. And the government is trying to take it away … It’s not just to the Jewish community; it’s to all of us. To everyone. Our Judeo-Christian heritage is what built this country. And we believe in … the sanctity of every life because we’re made in G-d’s image, and we have the right to teach that to our children and pass it along, and Heaven-forbid, if we don’t, because the darkness will overcome our nation. I believe this to my core.”

“And so I want to tell you, you have the strongest advocate you could possibly have in the speaker’s office. I’m with you 100%.”

Rabbanim in attendance included Rav Mordechai Beck, Rav Aharon Yida Blum, Rav Simcha Yisroel Blum, Rav Chaim Flohr, Rav Moshe Kessler, Rav Ben Zion Laub (dayan of Satmar-R’Aharon), Rav Mordechai Mecholowitz, Rav Pinchas Eliezer Meislish, Forshay Rebbe Rav Chaim Leibish Rottenberg, Rav Refoel Schorr, Rav Yaakov Shapiro. Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, who came from South Fallsburg, arrived just as the meeting was ending due to encountering heavy rainfall and traffic.

The regulations at issue were passed by the state Board of Regents in September 2022, a decade after some former yeshiva students alleged that they had not received the legally mandated education “substantially equivalent” to that taught in public schools, setting off a battle pitting those who allege some yeshivas offer a poor secular education leaving students inadequately prepared to earn a livelihood and participate in modern society, against those who say that parents deserve religious autonomy, that the totality of a yeshivah education is superior to that offered in public schools, and that yeshivah graduates live more productive lives than do public-school graduates.

The regulations, which are tied up in litigation, would require all private schools in the state to prove they are providing a secular education “at least substantially equivalent” to that offered in public schools via one of several specified pathways, including: having a high school that offers Regents exams, being accredited by an approved accrediting body, or using assessments approved by the SED that demonstrate student academic progress. If a school doesn’t qualify under one of these pathways, it may prove substantial equivalency by the pathway the schools consider most intrusive: the school having its curriculum reviewed and approved by the Local School Authority. If a school does not qualify as substantially equivalent under one of these pathways, it “shall no longer be deemed a school which provides compulsory education.” Children attending these schools would be deemed truant, which could result in the parents being fined or jailed.

Lawler had an amendment inserted in a federal education bill last March that reads, “It is the sense of Congress that local educational agencies do not have the authority to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum or program of instruction of non-public elementary or secondary schools.”

The clause does not actually impose any restriction on a local educational agency, as it is merely a “Sense of Congress” clause.

It is unclear exactly what steps the federal government could take to challenge a state education law, but yeshiva supporters expect to hold a meeting in Washington next month to strategize on potential steps.

One attendee at Sunday’s meeting told Hamodia that Johnson said he would “roll out the red carpet” for yeshiva advocates at the Capitol.

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