A potentially landmark faith schools court case for alleged racial discrimination is now underway, involving the JFS (formally the Jewish Free School). It is being brought by parents whose child was denied a place at the school.
The admissions criteria used by the school favours ethnically Jewish children.
The British Humanist Association (BHA) has announced that it is intervening in the case, alleging that the admission policy of JFS is not only unlawful under the Race Relations Act but also the Human Rights Act (HRA) on the grounds that the HRA has made such religious discrimination in the provision of state education illegal.
The European Convention of Human Rights prohibits discrimination on the grounds of status (whether race or religion) in access to state funded education, unless it is a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim.
Andrew Copson, BHA Director of Education and Public Affairs said: "Laws designed to protect the exclusive admissions policies of state-funded religious schools do not override the Human Rights Act and there is no evidence that school ethos is damaged by more inclusive admissions policies."
Copson added: "An overwhelming majority of people believe that our state-funded schools should be open to all children, regardless of their or their parents’ religious or non-religious beliefs. In shared schools, children of different backgrounds can learn with and from each other, helping to increase mutual understanding in our diverse society."
He continued: "The projected expansion of state-funded religious schools makes the necessity for seeking an end to discrimination in school admissions all the more pressing."
If the judge finds that the JFS admissions criteria are discriminatory on the grounds claimed by the BHA, this will call into question the policies followed by many of the thousands of state schools in Britain with a religious character (‘faith schools’).
The current policies of faith schools, and the government's policy of promoting schools that select on grounds of religion, has been questioned by a range of public figures and voices - both religious and non-religious.
Article 2 Protocol 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights provides that: "No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions."
Article 14 of the ECHR provides that: "The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in [the] Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status."
The hearing is expected to continue until 6 March 2008.