By: Steven Haskos
Pace International Law Review, Junior Associate
Britain’s Supreme Court is now considering the legality of the admissions policy of Europe’s largest Jewish school, JFS (originally Jewish Free School), located in London. In June, the British High Court of Appeals ruled that the policy of JFS was in breach of the Race Relations Act, which was enacted in 1976 to end racial discrimination in the United Kingdom.
The case revolves around a 12 year old observant Jew, whose father is Jewish and whose mother is a Jewish convert. The boy, identified as “M” in court documents, applied to the school in 2007, but was rejected on the grounds that his mother’s conversion took place in a Progressive, rather than an Orthodox synagogue. JFS, which defines Judaism under the Orthodox definition promulgated by the Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue, Jonathan Sacks, thus did not consider M’s mother or M himself to be Jewish. M’s denial prompted a lawsuit by the family, alleging the school had discriminated against him.
The complexity of this case centers on the court’s attempt to answer the question of who is a Jew. British law allows for faith-based schools to give priority to applicants of a particular religion in the admissions evaluation process when the school is oversubscribed, a practice which does not alone suggest a breach of the Race Relations Act, and one in which JFS partakes.
British High Court of Appeals noted that no school was permitted to discriminate in its admission policy on racial grounds. The key issue facing the court was whether JFS’ rejection of M was done so on racial, rather than religious grounds. The court found that the school’s test of Jewishness was based on ethnic grounds, as it focused on parental origin, rather than whether M considered himself Jewish and practiced Judaism. The court further noted that a theological motivation for the school’s discriminatory practices did not invalidate the unlawfulness.
The Supreme Court’s pending decision will have repercussions for all parochial schools in Britain. JFS has already introduced a new admissions policy test based on points accumulated by going to synagogue or doing charitable work.
The case will also have an effect on the Jewish community as a whole. In addressing issues regarding Jewish identity, various denominations within the faith will be keen to support or criticize the decision. The Supreme Court is expected to render its opinion by the end of the ye