A federal judge found on Friday that Jewish people are entitled to protection from race-based employment discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, marking what is believed to be the first ruling of its kind.
Magistrate Judge Mark Hornsby — who is overseeing a civil rights lawsuit alleging that the president of a private Baptist college in Louisiana said he would not hire a qualified candidate because of their “Jewish blood” — acknowledged that despite an ongoing debate on “whether Judaism is a people, a religion, or both,” there is no doubt “that many people have and continue to view being Jewish as a racial identity.”
The lawsuit revolves around former Louisiana College student Joshua Bonadona, who was raised in his mother’s Jewish faith before converting to Christianity as an undergraduate — a background he said was “widely known” on campus.
Last year, while working as a football coach at Southeast Missouri State University, Bonadona was invited to apply for an assistant coaching position at his alma mater. During an interview with LC’s head football coach Justin Charles and President Rick Brewer, Bonadona answered questions about his parents’ religious affiliations and maintained that he is a practicing Christian. Charles, who recommended Bonadona to the college as the most qualified candidate, subsequently said the position “was his” and that a final approval from Brewer was only needed as a formality, according to the lawsuit.
Bonadona submitted his resignation to SMSU shortly afterwards, only to be told by Charles that LC decided not to hire him because of his “Jewish descent.” When asked to clarify, the coach “stated that Dr. Brewer refused to approve [Bonadona’s] hiring because of what Dr. Brewer called [Bonadona’s] ‘Jewish blood.’”
Brewer has denied the allegation, saying in a February statement that he has been unfairly “vilified and determined guilty by certain persons from across the nation.”
“I am not nearly as upset as I am hurt,” he said. “I feel wounded by such reactions because I love and worship Jesus Christ, whose shed blood is the reason I have a personal relationship with the eternal God.”
While the college asked the court to dismiss Bonadona’s claim based in part on the grounds that anti-Jewish discrimination is not related to race under Title VII, this was contested by Hornsby, who noted in a court filing that some “embrace the concept that the Jewish people have a common genetic history.”
“America is no stranger to antisemitism, which is often rooted in prejudice against a person based on his heritage/ethnicity without regard to the person’s particular religious beliefs,” the judge determined. “Jewish citizens have been excluded from certain clubs or neighborhoods, and they have been denied jobs and other opportunities based on the fact that they were Jewish, with no particular concern as to a given individual’s religious leanings.”
Hornsby argued that Jews were thus treated like a racial or ethnic group, which Title VII was designed to protect from employment discrimination.
The college has 14 days to appeal the judge’s findings before they’re accepted by the court.
James Bullman, the plaintiff’s lawyer, hailed Hornsby’s recommendation as “a huge victory” on Friday.
“For the first time in our country’s history, a court has ruled that Jews have racial protection under Title VII,” Bullman wrote.
Yet David Barkey, senior counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, cautioned that the matter was “sensitive” in the Jewish community, which has in the past faced discrimination based on Nazi and other extremist claims that Jews constitute an inferior and “distinct race.”
“I think we have to remember this is a legal decision, not a scientific or sociological decision,” Barkey told The Associated Press. “The only concern that I would have is if it was being taken out of context to legitimize extremist views.”