jewish school boy pupil 248.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The British High Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday against the admissions policy of a Jewish school, saying it "discriminated unlawfully" by using the faith of the mother as an admissions criteria.
In a landmark judgement, the Court of Appeal said on Thursday that it was illegal for the Jewish Free School (JFS) in Kenton, north London, to admit pupils on the basis of whether their mother was Jewish or not.
Lords Justice Sedley, Rimer and Lady Justice Smith concluded: "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 [of] 1976."
The ruling follows an appeal brought on behalf of a 12-year-old boy - known as "M" - who was refused admission to JFS in 2007 as his mother had converted to Judaism through the Progressive Judaism movement, which is not recognized by the school. The United Synagogue, led by the Office of the Chief Rabbi, is the religious authority of the school.
Last summer a High Court judge ruled that the school's policy was based on religious and not racial grounds and thus was lawful. Overturning this judgment, the Court of Appeal ruled that an admissions policy, based on the faith of a child's mother, amounted to discrimination.
"If the discrimination is direct, as we consider it is, it cannot be justified," the court ruling added.
John Halford from Bindmans, the lawyers representing M, welcomed the judgment. "We welcome the strong statement by the court of appeal that the fundamental right to equality before the law regardless of race applies to the admissions criteria of a faith school," he said.
"We have never sought to interfere with the right of Orthodox Jews to define for their own religious purposes whom they do or do not recognize as Jewish. It is unlawful for a child's ethnic origins to be used as the criterion for entry to a school. Such a practice is even more unacceptable in the case of a comprehensive school funded by the taxpayer," Halford added.
A spokesperson for the United Synagogue, which has already spent Â£150,000 on legal fees, said: "Unless the Court of Appeal decision is overturned on appeal it will have a very serious effect on all Jewish schools and on many of our communal organizations."
Halford added that JFS should do "what the law demands" and admit M immediately to the school, and called on the school to draw up "inclusive admissions criteria that are fair to all who want their children to have a Jewish education."
JFS governors said they now intended to appeal against the decision to the House of Lords, the final court of appeal in the country, and Britain's Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks has pledged his support for a legal challenge to the court's ruling.
"The principles underlying membership of the Jewish faith have been maintained consistently throughout Judaism's long history, as has our duty to educate our children in the principles and practice of the faith itself," Sacks said in a statement on Thursday.
"These principles have nothing to do with race and everything to do with religion. Ethnicity is irrelevant to Jewish identity, according to Jewish Law. Education has been the crucible of Judaism throughout the millennia and the development of Jewish faith schools is one of Anglo Jewry's greatest achievements," he added.
The decision is likely to have a huge impact on the admission criteria used by faith schools in the UK.
"No faith school is immune from the prohibition on race discrimination," the court ruling added.