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Federal Court Voids Air Force Yarmulka Ban

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A federal district court judge in Washington today voided the United States Air Force’s restriction on the wearing of yarmulkas by Air Force personnel.

According to Howard Zuckerman, president of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA), Judge Aubrey Robinson ruled that wearing a skull cap for religious reasons is a constitutionally protected right.

At issue in the ruling was the case of Captain Simcha Goldman who served at March Air Force Base in California when he brought a lawsuit against the Air Force. Goldman was permitted to wear his yarnulka while in uniform since 1977. However, in the early part of 1981 a new commanding officer at the base ordered him to remove it. Discussions with the Air Force broke down and when Goldman was threatened with disciplinary action if he continued to wear his yarmulka he went to court.

David Butler, a member of COLPA’s Board of Directors and one of the attorneys who represented Goldman, said Judge Robinson found that the Air Force did not provide “reasoned and deliberate” grounds for denying Goldman the right to wear the traditional symbol of the Jewish faith.

SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DECISION

Butler said that Robinson, in July 1981, had issued a preliminary injunction against the Air Force in the case pending his final decision in the matter. He said that the Air Force opposed Goldman’s wearing of the yarmulka on the grounds that it would compromise the government’s concern for discipline and “esprit de corps.”

The Air Force also expressed concern that allowing Captain Goldman to wear his yarmulka would mean that they would have to accomodate other individuals who might have other religious dress or grooming requirements.

Butler said that not only is Robinson’s decision welcome because of the fact that a basic symbol of the Jewish faith was involved but it will also require the military to justify in real terms any infringement on religious practices in general.

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