Page last updated at 12:30 GMT, Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Jewish case may hit other schools

A menorah, the holy candelabrum that is seen as a symbol of Judaism
People are Jewish both by race and faith

The case of a Jewish school accused of breaching race relations laws over admissions could have ramifications for other faith schools, ministers say.

The Supreme Court case centres on the refusal of London school JFS to admit a boy whose mother converted to Judaism in a way that it does not accept.

Appeal Court judges held that as Jews are an ethnic group, denying places on these grounds is racial discrimination.

A government submission said the result may affect all Jewish and Sikh schools.

This is because in nearly every case members of the Jewish and Sikh religion are also members of a particular ethnic group related to their faith.

There are about seven Sikh schools and about 33 Jewish schools in England.

Those religious criteria do not depend on a person's ethnicity
Counsel for JFS

The boy in question, known as M, has a father who is Jewish by birth and a mother who is Jewish by conversion.

But the conversion ceremony was conducted by a Progressive rather than an Orthodox synagogue which is not recognised by the Office of the Chief Rabbi (OCR).

The Court of Appeal held in July that because Jews are also defined as an ethnic group under the Race Relations Act, denying a child admission solely on the basis that their mother is not Jewish would count as unlawful racial discrimination.

Counsel for JFS told the Supreme Court that the refusal to grant a place to M was not an act of race discrimination.

'Ethnic origin'

He said: "We say that M failed to secure a place at the school because and only because of the religious criteria applied by the Chief Rabbi as to who is a Jew.

"And those religious criteria do not depend on a person's ethnicity."

In a submission to the court, the Department for Children, Schools and Families said there could be ramifications for some faith schools where the faith is linked to race, such as Jewish schools and Sikh schools.

It argued that the decision by the Court of the Appeal potentially affects a significant number of schools and would impact upon the children's secretary's ability to discharge his functions.

It said the case "raises issues of considerable importance in terms of education policy and potential affects a large number of Jewish schools and other faith schools".

"Being Jewish, as defined by Jewish law, does not mean the same as being Jewish as a matter of 'ethnic origin'," the submission said.

"Rather the true position is that provided that a school gives preference in admission only on the basis of Jewish religious status, and not ethnic origin, it will not directly discriminate."

'Wide spectrum'

But it also added that if the Appeal Court ruling was upheld it may affect a number of other faith schools, such as Sikh schools and Muslim schools, "where children are likely to be very largely of South Asian origin".

They may then be hampered from selecting pupils on the basis of their faith, it argued.

The school, a successful and oversubscribed secondary in the London Borough of Brent, claims on its website that it reflects "the very wide range of the religious spectrum of British Jewry".

It adds: "Many come from families who are totally committed to Judaism and Israel; others are unaware of Jewish belief and practice."

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