Britain's Supreme Court: Jewish School Discriminated


Published December 16, 2009.
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A Jewish school in London discriminated against a child denied entrance because his mother was not recognized as Jewish, Britain’s Supreme Court said.

The court on Wednesday narrowly rejected an appeal by the Jewish Free School against an earlier ruling stating that its admission policy was illegal and that the North London school broke the Race Relations Act.

An Appeals Court had ruled in favor of a 12-year-old boy, known as M, who claimed that the school’s rejection of his application was discriminatory. M’s father is Jewish and his mother converted to Judaism, but not through an Orthodox synagogue. The school rejected his application because he is not considered Jewish according to the office of the Chief Rabbi.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court said the school’s admission criteria are discriminatory on the grounds of ethnicity. The ruling means that Jewish schools in Britain can no longer base their admission on whether a child is Jewish according to the Orthodox tradition.

The justices made it clear that they do not think that the school or the chief rabbi acted in a racist way, adding that they are free from moral blame.

The school said it was disappointed by the court’s decision but would work out a new admission policy for 2011.

British Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said the closeness of the decision illustrates the complexity of the case, adding that “I welcome the justices’ indication of the good faith in which the United Synagogue, the London Beit Din and our office had acted.”

Rabbi Tony Bayfield, the head of the Movement for Reform Judaism, was pleased with the decision.

“We are delighted that the admissions policy of the JFS, which actively delegitimizes our converts and our rabbis, has been confirmed as unlawful and unacceptable by the highest court in the land,” Bayfield said.

He did express reservations as to the applicability of the Race Relations Act to the issue of Jewish status and to the involvement of the courts in matters that should be dealt with by the Jewish community.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews was disappointed by the court’s decision, saying in a statement released Wednesday that “We will be exploring, as a matter of urgency and after consultation across the community, the possibility of a legislative change to restore the right of Jewish schools of all denominations to determine for themselves who qualifies for admission on the basis of their Jewish status, which we consider to be a fundamental right for our community and one with which the members of the Supreme Court had great sympathy.”

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