Untold Stories of Goldman v. Weinberger: Religious Freedom Confronts Military Uniformity

Samuel J. Levine

Touro College - Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center


The Air Force Law Review, Vol. 66

The U.S. Supreme Court has historically shown considerable deference to the military on matters of good order and discipline. A significant part of good order and discipline in the military relies on uniformity. At the same time, however, the Court has emphasized that "members of the military are not excluded from the protection granted by the First Amendment." As illustrated by current events, conflicts may arise between the military’s legitimate interest in uniformity and individuals’ constitutionally protected right to the free exercise of religion. In short, having accommodated certain exceptions to uniform standards for religious practice, can the Army continue to maintain arguments asserting a substantial or compelling interest in uniformity? The inevitable tension surrounding this issue brings to mind the most famous constitutional case to originate in the Air Force, the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court case of Goldman v. Weinberger.

On the basis of interviews, unpublished documents, and press reports, this article suggests that, upon closer examination, perhaps what stands out most about the events surrounding the Goldman decision is the untold story of the process, which differs in significant respects from the official version of both the facts of the case and the ensuing litigation. The official narrative presents a dispute between a Jewish Airman who wants to wear his yarmulke during work and a commanding officer demanding strict adherence to military uniform protocol. However, as this article relates, the unofficial narrative demonstrates how much of the process was driven by more subtle factors that played a central role at each stage of the case.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 20

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Date posted: February 4, 2011 ; Last revised: July 22, 2013

Suggested Citation

Levine, Samuel J., Untold Stories of Goldman v. Weinberger: Religious Freedom Confronts Military Uniformity (2010). The Air Force Law Review, Vol. 66. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1754665

Contact Information

Samuel J. Levine (Contact Author)
Touro College - Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center ( email )
225 Eastview Drive
Central Islip, NY 11722
United States
(631) 761-7138 (Phone)
(631) 761-7009 (Fax)

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