At the New York Times, Sarah Lyall reports on an ongoing British case that centers on complex questions of Jewish identity, religious freedom (or its impossibility), and definitions of religion. By the end of the year, the British Supreme Court is expected to decide whether a school with Jewish roots had the right to deny a prospective student status as Jewish because his mother does not meet Orthodox standards of Jewishness. Without the preferential admissions treatment that such status carries at the oversubscribed London school, the student was denied admission, and his family cried foul. The case could have ramifications not just for other Jewish schools but also for other religious schools in Britain:
In an explosive decision, the court concluded that basing school admissions on a classic test of Judaism—whether one’s mother is Jewish—was by definition discriminatory. Whether the rationale was “benign or malignant, theological or supremacist,” the court wrote, “makes it no less and no more unlawful.”
The case rested on whether the school’s test of Jewishness was based on religion, which would be legal, or on race or ethnicity, which would not. The court ruled that it was an ethnic test because it concerned the status of M’s mother rather than whether M considered himself Jewish and practiced Judaism.
“The requirement that if a pupil is to qualify for admission his mother must be Jewish, whether by descent or conversion, is a test of ethnicity which contravenes the Race Relations Act,” the court said. It added that while it was fair that Jewish schools should give preference to Jewish children, the admissions criteria must depend not on family ties, but “on faith, however defined.”
The same reasoning would apply to a Christian school that “refused to admit a child on the ground that, albeit practicing Christians, the child’s family were of Jewish origin,” the court said.
Read the rest of the article here.