TRENTON, N.J. (Aug. 31)
The right of a public school pupil to wear a yarmulke (skullcap) in class for religious reasons was urged today in a formal request for a ruling submitted to the State Education Commissioner Carl L. Marburger. The petition was signed by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Essex County, Eastern Union County Jewish Council; and New Jersey regional offices of the American Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
The petition grew out of the refusal by the Hillside. N.J. Board of Education earlier this month to rescind a school policy that barred 13-year-old Bernard Paul White from a summer typing course in the local high school because his religious faith required him to keep his head covered. State Education Commissioner Marburger was asked to rule that no child in New Jersey public schools be “expelled, suspended, excluded from class or otherwise disciplined for keeping his head covered in school if religious conscience requires him to do so.”
“While our immediate concern is the right of Orthodox Jewish children attending the public schools of this state, we share as well a broader commitment to the principles of religious freedom and of public education.” the petition stressed. “While the ruling we request herein may affect directly only a small number of children in the state, it is nevertheless required both for the preservation of religious freedom and the advancement of public education.”
The Jewish organizations advanced six main arguments in their petition:
1) Exclusion from school or other disciplining of a child who keeps his head covered because of his religious beliefs violates the religious freedom guarantees of the Federal and New Jersey constitutions.
2) U.S. Supreme Court decisions have consistently upheld the free exercise of religion where such exercise in no way injures or prejudices other persons. Thus, the high court held unconstitutional in 1943 the exclusion of Jehovah’s Witnesses children from public school because of their refusal for religious reasons to salute or pledge allegiance to the American flag.
3) There is “no paramount interest” of the State of New Jersey that is “endangered” by allowing a young boy to keep his head covered in class by an inconspicuous skull cap. “No other child is hurt or otherwise prejudiced thereby.”
4) New Jersey court decisions as well as legislative acts have consistently sustained the “broadest possible protection to the free exercise of religion.”
5)The principles of sound educational policy require a ruling consistent with the historic American principle of religious freedom. “What kind of pedagogy would it be to teach this proud history and at the same time practice the direct opposite in the classroom?” the report asks.
6) The presence of a child wearing a skullcap could be “a living and therefore most effective demonstration of the concept of a pluralistic democracy. Our educational goal is to teach our children to learn to live in peace and harmony with children of different religions, cultural backgrounds and racial origins,” the statement declared.