Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Confusion over race and admission

The judgment in the Jewish Free School case - over admissions for those of Jewish faith - was given by the Supreme Court just before the holiday. The issue was whether, by insisting in its admission policy that priority was given to Jews, defined as those of Jewish descent on the mother's side, the school was unlawfully discriminating on racial grounds.

The situation was complicated by the fact that the definition of membership of the Jewish race was pronounced on religious grounds by the Chief Rabbi. Members will be aware that this confusion of race and religion is replicated for Sikhs, though the courts have extended the bounds of racial qualification further in that case.

The Supreme Court was in great distress over the case but in the end a majority felt they had no choice but to agree with the Appeal Court that this was discrimination on racial grounds. Jewish schools now have to find an equivalent religious practice basis for selection.

Lord Phillips, interestingly, has been quoted as suggesting that perhaps the law should be changed to allow for justification of direct racial discrimination. Given that the legal definition of race at present does not conform to science or popular understanding, it may be that things cannot get much worse, but one cannot help thinking that to change things in that way might be to fulfil the saying 'hard cases make bad law'.

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