Equality and Human Rights Commission tells Belz sect its ruling that women could not drive their children to its schools in North London is illegal
Source: The Guardian
By Jane Martinson
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has told the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect that banned mothers driving their children to school that its behaviour is illegal.
In a letter sent after consultation with the Department for Education, Baroness O’Neill, chair of the commission, describes the actions of the Belz sect, which runs two schools in Stamford Hill, north London, as unlawful and discriminatory.
On Wednesday 3 June, the commission wrote to the sect “advising them that their actions are unlawful under the Equality Act 2010”.
The group runs Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass, a boys’ primary school, and Beis Malka, a primary school for girls. Both have been rated good by Ofsted.
The schools had said that from August, any child driven to school by their mother would be turned away at the school gates. The letter said the ban was based on the recommendations of Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, the Belzer spiritual leader in Israel.
Gloria De Piero, shadow minister for women and equalities, wrote to the commission last week asking for “urgent clarification of the law” over whether religious freedoms trumped other rights. “Our laws protect individuals in the enjoyment of their basic rights and freedoms from discrimination because of their sex and I have serious concerns about the implications of the ban as reported,” she wrote.
O’Neill’s reply, sent just five days later, said: “In our view, the actions of the proprietor of the two schools in question are likely to constitute direct discrimination (contrary to section 13) by association with the sex of another person (in this instance their mothers, when driving them to school).”
She also tackled the issue that that article 9 of the Human Rights Act allows “the right to freedom of religion”.
“This, as you know, is a qualified right and must be balanced against the rights of others, including the right not to be discriminated against under Article 14 and the right to an education.”
Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, has also condemned the ban as “completely unacceptable in modern Britain”.
Parents in the area have defended the ban, which was first reported by the Jewish Chronicle last week, as part of living within the Belz community. Women rejected the characterisation that they were oppressed, and the schools wrote to Morgan, saying the notice had been misrepresented.