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The JFS and legal racial discrimination

Posted by Graeme in Politics,Religion at 8:14 am on Saturday, 5 July 2008

The case of the boy refused admission to the Jewish Free School (JFS) has revealed that some types of racial discrimination are legal in Britain. The key point is that he would have been admitted if his ethnicity was right.

At first sight it appears that the school is merely admitting people who belong to the same tradition of Judaism – rather as a Catholic school might admit Catholics in preference to Anglicans. However, this school also admits atheists, provided they are ethnically Jewish. If your ethnicity makes a difference to how you are treated, it is obviously a case of racial discrimination.

The judge said that this was not different to Christian and Muslim schools giving preference to followers of their religions. The best rebuttal I can think of to this is to imagine an equivalent admissions policy for a Christian school.

Suppose a Church of England School had an admissions policy that stated that pupils must be either:

  1. baptised and (the child of?) a practising member of the Church of England, or,
  2. ethnically English.

I think it is obvious that this would be a racist policy. An ethnically English applicant would not have their religion considered, a Scot of a black would.

This policy is essentially the same as that of the JFS. Anglicanism is the traditional religion of the English, just as Judaism is the traditional religion of the Jews. If one is justified, why not the other? Why not a Catholic school that favoured the Irish even if the were atheists? Why not a Muslim school that took any Arab but insisted on tight religions criteria for other applicants?

I think the judge (and possibly the school themselves) are confused and unable to make the distinction between the Jews (the ethnic group) and Judaism (the religion). In a democratic society anyone (of any ethnic group) is free to follow any religion, so the distinction is important. Religion matters: what you believe reality to be forms the basis of your life and your other beliefs. Race does not matter: it is not something that a decent person should pay the slightest attention to.

Race is not the same as culture which does matter, but the two are linked only by historical accident. I know many brown skinned people who are culturally English, and many white skinned people who are culturally Sri Lankan.

There is no excuse, racism is racism. If it is legal, so much the worse for the law.

Comments (1)


Comment by Christian at 1:13 am on 6 October 2008 at

I can’t speak for the judge’s reasoning either way, but Judaism (and Christianity) do ascribe a special theological status to people of the Jewish ethnic group. So with Judaism/Christianity, admitting all ethnic Jews could be seen as racial discrimination *and/or* creed-related admission.

I would think this puts government in an awkward position, because if they enforce laws about racial discrimination, they also get into theological issues, which they try to avoid.

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