After these turn of events, Goldman weighed his scant options. He considered requesting the Jewish Defense League (JDL) to conduct a protest across from the base, and he had some other not-fully-prudent ideas, but in the end he did the smartest thing that he could have done, which was to contact COLPA who advised him – among other things – not to organize any protests.
Goldman recounts that his predicament – one against the entire military establishment – was at the same time stressful and, oddly, exhilarating. He felt as if the Almighty was tapping him on the shoulder and whispering, “I want you to pull this off for Me.”
Goldman received the slightest of reprieves when the military defense counsel (who was all incredulity that Goldman refused a direct order and continued to walk around the base wearing a yarmulke) argued that the Letter of Reprimand should and could not be placed in Goldman’s file, for at the time of the order’s non-compliance the Defense Counsel was out-of-town.
The council further advised, upon examining the file, that Goldman take immediate advantage of the six days of leave that were coming to him. Simcha complied with this advice, applied for emergency leave – which was granted – providing him with nearly a week’s reprieve.
COLPA’s handling of the case was spearheaded by David Butler who worked for Nathan Lewin. Butler apprised Goldman that they were seeking injunctive relief from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (the correct address for military matters) claiming that the Air Force had violated Goldman’s First Amendment rights under the Free-Exercise Clause.
The district court under Judge Aubrey E. Robinson (the very same judge who had ruled in favor of Rabbi Geller) granted Goldman a temporary restraining order on July 3, 1981, preventing the Air Force from enforcing its headgear regulation.
“There can be no doubt that the Plaintiff’s insistence on wearing a yarmulke is motivated by his religious convictions, and therefore is entitled to First Amendment protection,” Robinson wrote. “Because of the seriousness of the First Amendment allegations,” he continued, “and resulting pressure on the Plaintiff to abandon his religious observances, injunctive relief is appropriate.” Judge Robinson also ordered the Air Force to withdraw the letter of reprimand and negative performance evaluation given to Goldman.
As a restraining order is filed in court it is technically a public matter. Factually, court orders are filed all the time, and no one in the public is the wiser. But in this instance an alert reporter was present – and sensing a serendipitous moment – was going to turn this routine court procedure into a national scoop.
After the termination of his emergency leave, yarmulke-adorned-Goldman returned to the base protected by a court order. No commander appreciates his wings clipped by an underling – how much more so in the wing-sensitive Air Force – and, as always, action begets a reaction.
Simcha Goldman received notice that the courtesy that the Air Force afforded him regarding Sabbath accommodation would be curtailed. The standing arrangement was that he worked one-and-a-half hours later on Thursdays so that he could depart one-and-a-half hours earlier on Fridays (Sabbath observance commences with sundown on Friday and concludes at nightfall on Saturday) in order to spend the Sabbath with his family that lived 90 minutes from the base.
The Air Force could deny Goldman the courtesy, as they were not requiring him to violate his Sabbath. Nothing prevented Goldman from observing the Sabbath by remaining in his office on the base for the duration of the 25-hour period, sans his family.
The fact that the Air Force lost nothing by allowing him to work extra hours on Thursday to compensate for what he would miss on Friday was immaterial. The matter was up to their discretion and this was a fight that Simcha Goldman could not win. The same could be argued regarding the yarmulke, but Goldman was emotionally unable to abandon that battle.
Because of his dogged commitment to principle, he ignored – initially – conventional wisdom which dictated for Captain Goldman to drop out of the Air Force and curtail the wave of hardships that were engulfing him. But no wisdom, conventional or otherwise, was able to dissuade him from fighting for his religious rights.
Alas, prudency would yet prevail. Despite Simcha’s desire to remain in service, it no longer made any sense, and was thrusting him into thornier dilemmas and further jeopardy. Daily. The four-year obligation that he owed the Air Force to compensate for funding his education was completed in August, 1981 and, reluctantly, he retired.
Simcha Goldman’s lawsuit against the Air Force came to trial in late September, 1981. He was suing the Air Force for… the $100 he had been docked in wages by being forced to take emergency leave. This created an interesting, legal paradox.
(To be continued)
Chodesh Tov – have a pleasant month!Rabbi Hanoch Teller