Amici Curiae: Israel’s Tal Law Conflict, Chick Fil-A’s Legal Troubles and Women in Law

Conscription Conflict: Israel and Tal Law

The Haredi Community, an ultra-orthodox sect of Judaism, is the fastest growing community in Israel, and up until Tuesday night, its members were exempt from Israel’s mandatory military service. In February of this year, the Israeli Supreme Court (ISC) ruled that Tal law, the law providing for such an exemption by allowing the Community’s 54,000 yeshiva (seminary) students to indefinitely defer military service, was unconstitutional. Tal law is essentially a draft dodging mechanism which allows for religious study in place of military service. The ISC provided that the Knesset draft new legislation by the end of July. Even as the world looks on,  Israel’s focus is on this ongoing internal conflict: ultra-orthodox leader Meir Porush suggested that redrafting this Tal law would unleash a “civil war.”

60 years ago, the exemptions were extended to a few hundred rabbinical scholars. The intention then was to rebuild the religious academia knocked out by the Holocaust. The ultra-orthodox community has followed the words of the Bible, “Be Fruitful and Multiply,” and by increasing the birthrate of its community, those few hundreds have become 54,000 exemptions. Instead of becoming a part of the country’s 18-year olds (where men are drafted for three years and women for two), community members continue studying in yeshivas.

Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defence Minister, gave the military a month to prepare conscript ultra- orthodox yeshiva students. As for now, the fate of the young religious male community is in limbo. The exemption has expired, but there is no replacement law.

Even if special considerations, such as the ability to practice their religious observances are to be adhered to, many yeshiva students still protest, preferring incarceration to avoid serving in the military. The ultra religious cite their need to practice their strictly religious lifestyle. Secular Israelis, on the other hand, protest the inequity and social unfairness of the law. The growing population of the ultra-orthodox combined with Israel’s multi-factioned political system has led to religious parties winning many subsidies, which in turn allow them to study, and not contribute to the economy. They are not serving their country equally, either financially or defensively.

The Knesset is in recess until mid-October, technically putting these debates on hold. The storm is a-brewin’, as tensions between the religious and the secular sides continue to grow in Israel.


A Quick Fillet of the Legal Issues Behind the Chick Fil-A Controversy

Chick Fil-A, the fried-chicken sandwich serving, grammatically incorrect US fast-food chain has been in the news a lot recently, and readers will no doubt have read about the reason, as well as its consequences. In June and July 2012, the COO of Chick Fil-A, Dan Cathy, went on record to the Baptist Press, a self-professed Christian news media outlet, by stating that company was founded on traditional values. Outlining these practices, Cathy pointed out that while there was no such thing as a “Christian” business, Chick Fil-A’s founders operated the company on principles and values outlined in the Bible. For Cathy, this also meant that the company stood in support of the “biblical definition of a family unit.” Controversy erupted subsequently, with the comment being interpreted as a formal admission of the company’s anti-gay rights stance, something that had long been suspected already. Subsequently, the media has been awash with commentary on both the pros and cons of Cathy’s statements, with the debate naturally being centered the ongoing fight for marriage equality in the US. Of particular relevance to this blog however, are the legal ramifications of Cathy’s statement, and the media maelstrom that has surrounded it. And like everything in law, these potential consequences abound for both sides.

On the one hand, Cathy’s statements have been viewed as a huge liability for potential religious, sexual orientation and marital status claims against Chick Fil-A, since an employer cannot legally ask an employee to reveal any one of these three areas of her or his life. Cathy’s statement, then, could reflect an official or unofficial company policy of prodding into its employees private lives, and considering that Chick Fil-A definitely has LGBTTTIQ employees, this harkens back to the sinister “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” days in the not-so-recent US military past. At the same time, commentators have pointed out that both the backlash against, and the movements in support of Chick Fil-A have reached such unprecedented numbers that the issue has long moved beyond free speech and marital rights, and has now become one of consumerism and civil rights. It is especially interesting to see how similar recent corporate policies of taking political stances on social issues in the US have polarized consumers, often making one wonder if the support is more for the company’s stance, rather than the actual cause itself.

And since US constitutional rights are being called into question, it has also been pointed out that the recent actions of city councils of Boston, New York and Chicago are contrary to the First Amendment Right to Free Speech of Chick Fil-A’s COO; they actively “punish” a company official for exercising his right to free speech, something that has been explicitly forbidden by the US Supreme Court in Kansas v Umbehr 94-1654. While the political rationales behind the actions of these three cities are justifiable, it remains to be seen whether they have any strong legal ground to stand on.

Perhaps, the issue has been framed wrongly from the beginning; it should always have been, and should really be about the separation of church and chicken, rather than of individual religious and political convictions.


Diversity in the Workplace

This week, covered two crucial issues in the legal profession: minimum retirement age at law firms and law schools supposedly engaging in fraudulent practices to attract students. Another issue that has been hotly debated in the past few years is diversity in the legal profession. Today, more women graduate law school than men. Almost all firms talk the talk, such as women’s support groups, work-life balance initiatives and specialized training. But can they walk the walk too?

The results of a survey conducted by the National Law Journal were released earlier in July of this year, ranking the largest firms in the United States by headcount – the number of female equity partners, namely. While the percentage of women equity partners in the largest firms in the United States may not paint an accurate picture of the legal profession as a whole, the survey does shine light on the progress, or lack thereof, we have made in recent years, to help the legal profession become more inclusive. According to the survey, women account for 15.1 percent of equity partners; including non-equity partners, the number rises to 18.8 percent. Of the 221 law firms surveyed, women made up more than 25 percent of equity partners in only five. Those firms that ranked highly tended to be the regional and highly-specialized firms.

In terms of the larger picture, we have fared well. In 2003, when the survey was first launched, only sixteen percent of a firm’s partners – equality and non-equality – were women. That being said, the number of equity partners has been held at around fifteen percent in the last twenty years, according to the National Association of Women Lawyers.

One promising sign is that firms have the power to turn their culture around to attract, and retain, talented female lawyers. In 2003, for example, Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Sullivan & Cromwell had female equity partner numbers in the single digits (8.9 and 9.9 percent, respectively). Only about a decade later, the numbers have risen to 15.5 and 18 percent, respectively.

So, the conversation about women in the workplace can indeed be a fruitful one. As with any kind of meaningful change, progress may be frustratingly slow at first. That does not mean that we can afford to stop talking the talk, or indeed, walking the walk.

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