Sunday, October 02, 2011

Israeli Court Grants Citizen Right to Self-Determine His Religious Identity

Did you know that Israel registers the religion and ethnicity of its citizens?

Israel registers its citizens according to both their religion and their ethnicity, although it does not include an "Israeli" ethnicity, labelling its Jewish citizens as of "Jewish" ethnicity.

And while newborns, apparently, can be registered as "without religion", it's not enough for adults to just ask to have their religious registration changed from "Jewish" to "without religion":

Kaniuk [an author and veteran of the of the 1948 War of Independence], 81, sought to equate his standing to that of his grandson, born last year, who is registered as "without religion" at the Population Registry.

The infant was originally classified as a Christian American, like his mother. Kaniuk's daughter was born in Israel but is defined by the Interior Ministry as an American Christian because her own mother was born in the United States and is a Christian.

After some discussion, Population Registry officials agreed to change the baby's status. When Kaniuk requested the same change be made to his own religious status, officials said he needed to obtain court approval for the amendment.

Mr. Kaniuk asked the court to allow him to change his religious status and the court granted his request:

After brief deliberations on the eve of last week's Rosh Hashanah holiday, a Tel Aviv judge ruled that Israeli author Yoram Kaniuk could register his official religious status as "without religion."

"Freedom from religion is a freedom derived from the right to human dignity, which is protected by the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom," Judge Gideon Ginat of the Tel Aviv District Court wrote in his unusual ruling.

He went on to say that he believed that the Basic Laws, which function as constitution law in Israel, and in particular the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, alleviates from the plaintiff the burden of proof in demanding to be defined as religionless.

"The only question that must be weighed is whether the plaintiff proved the seriousness of his intentions ... I see no need to impose on the plaintiff any burden with the exception of bringing his request before the court," Ginat wrote.

Understandably, Mr. Kaniuk was thrilled with the decision:

"This is a ruling of historic proportions," Kaniuk said to Haaretz yesterday, with audible emotion. "The court granted legitimacy to every person to live by their conscience in this land, in ruling that human dignity and freedom means a person can determine their own identity and definition. In this way I can be without religion but Jewish by nationality.

So a win on the [non-] religious front but a continued lack of clarity ("Jewish" vs. "Israeli"), at least for me, on the nationality one.

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