NEW YORK (Jun. 15)
New York Congressmen were urged by the State Division of Human Rights to take the lead in enactment of legislation to prevent such military actions as the order to a Jewish military chaplain not to wear his skullcap while on duty.
Douglas White, the State Human Rights Commissioner, said such legislation was needed to restore “the First Amendment right of free exercise of religion to members of the armed forces.”
The Supreme Court ruled last March 25 that the Air Force acted within its authority when it banned the wearing of a skullcap by Rabbi Simcha Goldman, who was working as a clinical psychologist at March Air Force Base in California.
THREAT OF RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION
White asserted that the Supreme Court decision could “seriously undermine” the religious discrimination provisions of the New York Human Rights Law” and “open the door to religious discrimination in any job where a uniform is required.”
Goldman was given a formal letter of reprimand in May, 1981, and threatened with a court martial for refusing to remove his skullcap on duty. Represented by the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA), Goldman was given a temporary restraining order and an injunction on April 26, 1982 upholding his constitutional right to wear a skullcap on duty. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals reversed the District Court ruling on May 8, 1984. After a COLPA petition to the Appeals Court was rejected, COLPA filed an appeal with the Supreme Court.
White sent his request in letters to the two U.S. Senators and to 33 members of the House. White noted, in that letter, the introduction of bills on the issue by Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R. NY) and Rep. Charles Schumer (D. NY).
The two bills would bar federal officials from interfering with the religious practices of members of the armed forces. The House measure would extend the proposed ban to cover all federal employees.
FEAR OF UNIFORMED SERVICE RULES
White declared, “If a complaint based on the same facts were filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights, our processes would very likely result in a finding of probable cause under the New York Human Rights Law.” Such a finding is a required preliminary action to intervention by the division on behalf of an individual applying to the division in a human rights dispute.
In his letter, White said, “we can envision uniformed services from police departments to private security forces imposing similar rules on their employes on the strength of the (Supreme Court) decision.”
White offered to testify in support of such legislation at Congressional hearings, declaring, “we cannot permit such erosion of a basic human right, especially where the religious observance cannot possibly interfere with the performance of one’s duties.”
Goldman resigned his Air Force commission to become a psychologist at a Lubavitch House in Los Angeles. The Supreme Court ruling apparently nullified claims by Goldman for damages allegedly suffered in lost promotions and pay increases he would have received if he had obeyed the no-skullcap order.