Book List Review

The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel: The Rise of a Village Theocracy and the Battle to Defend the Separation of Church and State.

Grumet, Louis (Author) and Caher, John (Author) Apr 2016. 304 p. Chicago Review, hardcover, $27.99. (9781613735008). 344.73.

Kiryas Joel is a community of the Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism. Located in upstate New York, it’s members observe strict dietary laws, wear distinct clothing, and otherwise do not interact much with non-Satmar. Although most of their children are educated in the community’s private schools, the Satmar have a high number with special needs. Attending to those needs was the responsibility of the local public school district, but the results were disastrous. The New York State Legislature attempted to resolve the issue by creating a school district with boundaries that exactly matched those of Kiryas Joel. Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this was an unconstitutional aid to religion. One of the authors, Grumet, who filed the original lawsuit against the New York plan, gives an insider’s account of the politics and intrigue that led to the creation of the school district as well as the subsequent years of litigation. Establishment Clause jurisprudence inevitably invokes strong reactions. Grumet passionately lets the reader know where he stands.— Christopher McConnell


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