NEW YORK (Jun. 10)
The National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA) reported today that it was acting on both the legal and legislative fronts to win reversals of rulings by the Defense Department and the federal Court of Appeals barring the wearing of yarmulkes by members of the armed forces while on duty.
The issue remains valid despite the fact that Rabbi Simcha Goldman, who, with the help of COLPA, fought for years to retain the right, as an Air Force chaplain, to wear a yarmulke while on chaplaincy duty, has left the service. He is now a practicing psychologist at Chabad House in Los Angeles but did not resign his Air Force Commission and is currently in the Air Force Reserve.
He had been permitted to wear his yarmulke while on duty since 1977, when a new commanding officer at the March Air Force Base in Riverside, Calif., ordered Chaplain Goldman not to wear his yarmulke while performing his duty as a clinical psychologist at the base regional hospital.
CASE TRAVELLED THROUGH COURTS
Threatened with disciplinary action, Goldman filed suit in federal district court in Washington on July 2, 1981, which upheld his right to wear his yarmulke on duty. In May, 1982, the Air Force filed an appeal with the federal Court of Appeals, which upheld the Air Force ban.
COLPA then filed an appeal from the circuit court ruling with the Supreme Court, which is now considering whether to accept the case, Dennis Rapps, COLPA executive director, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today.
DEFENSE DEPARTMENT STUDY
He also reported that a Defense Department Study on Religious Practices in the Armed Forces recommended that uniformed personnel not be allowed to wear yarmulkes on duty.
The study was required by legislation passed last year by Congress under sponsorship of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R. Utah) and Rep. Stephen Solarz (D. NY). Allen Rothenberg, COLPA president, said that COLPA officials would meet at a date yet to be determined with Hatch and Solarz. Rothenberg said the purpose of such a meeting would be to determine a possible legislative solution to the problem.
Rothenberg said that Nathan Lewin, COLPA vice president, and David Butler, COLPA board member, are representing Goldman in his appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
Rapps said the legal issue is whether or not, in the absence of a specific statute providing for wearing of a yarmulke on duty, the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion requires the Defense Department to permit the wearing of yarmulkes on duty by observant Jews.