"Multiculturalism, Freedom of Religion, Equality, and the British Constitution: The JFS Case Considered"

Michigan Law Authors
Publish Date
International Journal of Constitutional Law
Publication Type
Journal Article

In the JFS case, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom held that the admissions policy of a Jewish faith school constituted unlawful racial discrimination because it used the Orthodox Jewish interpretation of who is Jewish as a criterion for determining admission to the school. A detailed discussion of the case is located in the context of two broader debates in Britain, which are characterized as constitutional in character or, at least, as possessing constitutional properties. The first is the debate concerning the treatment of minority groups, multiculturalism, and the changing perceptions in public policy of the role of race and religion in national life. It is suggested that this debate has become imbued with strong elements of what has been termed “post-multiculturalism”. The second debate is broader still, and pertains to shifting approaches to “constitutionalism” in Britain. It is suggested that, with the arrival of the European Convention on Human Rights and EU law, the U.K. has seen a shift from a pragmatic approach to constitutional thinking, in which legislative compromise played a key part, to the recognition of certain quasi-constitutional principles, allowing the judiciary greatly to expand its role in protecting individual rights while requiring the judges, at the same time, to articulate a principled basis for doing so. In both these debates, the principle of equality plays an important role. The JFS case is an important illustration of some of the implications of these developments.

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