Senate Defeats Measure That Would Have Allowed Jewish Members of the Armed Forces to Wear Yarmulkes

The Senate narrowly defeated an amendment last Thursday night that would have allowed Jewish members of the military to wear yarmulkes if it did not interfere with the performance of their military duty. The vote was 51-49 to table the amendment to the 1987 Department of Defense Authorization Bill introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D.-N.J.)

Lautenberg told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that by voting to table his amendment, Senators were able to reject the amendment without actually voting against it. He said he would urge the Senate-House conference on the defense authorization bill to include the amendment which is contained in the House bill. He said if this fails he and others would offer new legislation later.

Lautenberg and Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R.-NY) introduced the amendment after the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 last March that the military had the power to ban the wearing of all headgear indoors.

The case involved Simcha Goldman, an Orthodox Jew, who as an Air Force captain working as a psychologist in 1981 was reprimanded for wearing his yarmulke on duty.

ELEMENTS IN THE MEASURE

Lautenberg noted that his amendment specified that Jews and members of other religions could wear headgear required by their religion only if such “apparel is neat and conservative.” In addition, either the Secretary of Defense or any of the Service secretaries could prohibit the headgear if it is determined that it would interfere with the performance of military duties.

“Simply because a person has joined the military, he or she should not be deprived of their basic constitutional rights, such as the free exercise of religion,” Lautenberg said. He said Jews and others should be able to feel free to be “religious and good Americans” and not “have to apologize” for practicing their religion.

Three of the Senate’s eight Jews voted against the amendment, including Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R.-Minn.), who had been one of its original sponsors. The other two were Sens. Chic Hecht (R.-Nev.) and Edward Zorinsky (D.-Neb.).

Hecht spoke against the amendment on the Senate floor. “When one enters the Armed Forces of the United States, certain religious obligations are foregone — dietary laws, morning prayers and the wearing of religious items,” he said. He noted that he served in the army. “I was proud to wear the uniform, which did not differentiate me from any other soldier of any other faith, and that is the way I always want it to be,” Hecht said.

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