June 27, 2009

Jewish school broke race discrimination laws

by Benjamin Graham

A Jewish state school broke race discrimination laws by refusing to admit a child whose mother converted to the faith, a court ruled yesterday.

Three judges at the Court of Appeal held that the JFS, formerly the Jewish Free School, had discriminated against the 12-year-old boy on the grounds of race.

The boy, known as M, is a practising Jew who regularly attends his local Synagogue in north London.

However, officials at JFS denied him admission because his mother had converted to progressive Judaism rather than orthodox Judaism in a procedure not recognised by the Chief Rabbi.

The judges’ decision overrules a previous court ruling in the school’s favour.

“It appears clear to us… that Jews constitute a racial group defined principally by ethnic origin and additionally by conversion,” said Lord Justice Sedley.

“To discriminate against a person on the ground that he or someone else either is or is not Jewish is therefore to discriminate against him on racial grounds.”

Under current British law, faith schools are allowed to discriminate on religious grounds, enabling them to provide an education in line with the tenets of their faith.

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks criticised the ruling as “inconsistant” with Judaism’s long history of educating Jewish children in the principles and practices of the faith.

“Ethnicity is irrelevant to Jewish identity, according to Jewish Law,” Sacks said.

M’s solicitor, John Halford, welcomed the ruling as “long overdue”

“JFS admits the children of atheist or practising Christian parents whose mothers happened to be born Jewish, but denies entry to children like M who practise Judaism, but whose mothers’ conversions are not recognised by the office of the Chief Rabbi,” Halford said.

The ruling is expected to force many Jewish schools across the country with a similar admissions criteria to JFS to change their policy.

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