The British Judiciary Defines the Jews
In the continuing series of stories that show Western (especially European) governments to believe it to be their right to define the boundaries of religious practice, David Goldman describes a case in which a British court found that an Orthodox Jewish school could not follow the practice of matrilineal descent in its admissions policies:
JFS is a state school, one among seven thousand religious schools funded by the British government, but the ruling in the case applies equally to private schools. Justice Munby, presiding in the first case, opened his ruling with these words: “The content of a religious faith and the nature of its beliefs, observances, and practices is, for a secular court, a matter of fact to be proved in the usual way by evidence.” What was to be proved, in a practical matter, was whether the Jewish religion might be practiced in the United Kingdom.
Munby ultimately decided for the school, but having determined that a secular court could judge whether a religious organization’s decision was factually in keeping with its stated beliefs, he opened the way for an appeals court to come to a different conclusion about whether the practices suggested by those beliefs are legal:
Even more redolent of Kafka was the subsequent contrary ruling of the appeals court, which overturned Munby’s decision with the brief, bland assertion that Jewish religious law was racist, equating the Jewish doctrine of matrilineal descent with South African apartheid: “If it were otherwise, a person who honestly believed, as the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa until recently believed, that God had made black people inferior and had destined them to live separately from whites, would be able to discriminate openly without breaking the law.”
On first glance, the decision seems to be a consequence of the West’s method of fighting racism through government, rather than cultural, structures, and that has surely been contributing to the sequentially falling barriers protecting individual and collective liberty, but even so, an additional intellectual barricade had to fall, in this case. The distinction now lost was that one cannot convert from being black, but one can convert to Orthodox Judaism. If one believes attendance of an Orthodox Jewish school to be of such merit as to pursue lawsuits for admission, one can follow the steps to become officially Jewish.
Not good enough, says updated British law. Personally, I think a group ought to be free to set policies for its community however it likes, and everybody else ought to be free to lampoon and shun it, but even an entry hatch of conversion is not sufficient inclusiveness for the soldiers of tolerance.