December 16, 2009

Jewish school loses discrimination appeal

by Sara Levy

A Jewish school has been found guilty of racial discrimination by the Supreme Court after it refused a place to a pupil it didn’t consider ethically Jewish.

The nine justices of the court voted by a slim majority that the Jewish Free School (JFS) in London had acted in breach of race relations legislation.

“The majority of the court has concluded that the JFS admission policy does discriminate on the grounds of ethnic origin and is, in consequence, unlawful,” said Supreme Court President Lord Philips.

A Jewish man brought the case to court after his son was refused admission to JFS because the man’s wife had converted to reform Judaism rather than Orthodox Judaism.

Lord Philips emphasised that JFS, which took the case to the Supreme Court on appeal, should not be considered racist even though it had been found guilty of racial discrimination.

“The fact that the JFS admission policy has fallen foul of the Race Relations Act certainly does not mean those responsible for the admissions policy have behaved in a way that is racist, as that word as generally understood,” he said.

Russell Kett, chairman of governors at JFS, said the school was disappointed at the court’s ruling.

“We must now set about establishing a more workable solution for a Jewish practice test to be used for admissions in 2011,” he said.

“JFS School felt it had no alternative than to continue to press for its test of ‘Jewishness’ to be based solely on orthodox Jewish religious law, rather than on a series of factors which themselves have no relevance under Jewish law, but which seem to support the notion of a test of Jewish practice required by the English legal system.”

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said he needed to take time for “careful reflection and consultation” before reacting to the case.

“Our office will be working closely together with the schools, the United Synagogue, the Board of Deputies and other interested parties to consider the implications of the verdict before making a full response,” he said.

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