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Court To Decide If Civil Rights Laws Protect Jews, Arabs

October 7, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court, agreeing to decide whether race may involve more than skin pigment, will determine whether federal civil rights laws aimed primarily at helping blacks should protect Jews and Arabs against discrimination.

The court, beginning its 1986-87 term Monday, agreed to consider giving an expansive meaning to the term race in two cases from Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith said it was pleased by the court’s announcement.

″Although the league rejects the notion that Jews should be classified as a race, it is our hope that the Supreme Court will find that the civil rights statutes must be construed to cover acts of racism directed toward Jews,″ said Michael E. Schultz, a B’nai B’rith official.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist presided and Antonin Scalia took his seat as the court’s newest member as the justices issued orders Monday in more than 1,000 appeals and began hearing arguments in cases already under review.

In the new discrimination cases, the court said it will consider whether Jews should be allowed to use federal civil rights laws to sue vandals for defacing a synagogue and whether an Arab college professor is entitled to the laws’ special protection.

The professor, Majid Ghaidan Al-Khazraji, had been an associate professor at St. Francis College of Loretto, Pa., for more than five years when he was denied tenure in 1978.

A U.S. citizen born in Iraq, Al-Khazraji sued the college for alleged discrimination under the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1866. He said the college improperly considered his ethnic background as an Arab and his religion, Muslim.

A federal judge threw out his suit. But last March, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the case.

The appeals court said Arabs may be considered a protected minority under federal civil rights law even though it was enacted primarily to safeguard the rights of blacks.

The appeals court acknowledged that the race of Arabs is Caucasian.

But, it said, ″When Congress referred in the statute to ‘race,’ it plainly did not intend thereby to refer courts to any particular scientific conception of the term.″

The law is intended to apply to members of any group that is ″ethnically and physiognomically distinctive,″ the appeals court said.

In the other case, members of the Shaare Tefila Congregation of Silver Spring, Md., invoked the civil rights laws to sue those who spray-painted their synagogue in November 1982 with anti-Semitic and Nazi-type slogans and symbols.

Vandals wrote ″Dead Jew″ and ″Death to the Jude″ and painted swastikas, a skull and crossbones and Ku Klux Klan symbols on the outside of the building.

The congregation filed suit against eight men in 1984. But last March, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled that federal civil rights laws do not apply to Jews because they are not a separate race but are part of the white race.

Nothing in the laws ″was intended to apply to situations in which a plaintiff is not a member of a racially distinct group but is merely perceived (incorrectly) to be so″ by those being sued, the appeals court said.

Five of the accused vandals in the case were prosecuted and received sentences ranging from three years in prison to probation.

In other action Monday, the court:

-Said it will decide whether government-run airports may prohibit people from distributing literature inside terminals. The court agreed to consider reinstating such a ban imposed on Jews for Jesus, a religious group, at Los Angeles International Airport.

-Agreed to use an Illinois case to decide a key point in obscenity prosecutions: whether local or national sensitivities apply when judging whether material is ″utterly without redeeming value.″

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