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In 1986, the United States Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision ruling that Air Force regulations prohibiting Simcha Goldman from wearing a yarmulke while in uniform did not violate Goldman’s First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. The Court’s majority opinion, which accepted the government’s assertion that allowing Goldman to wear a yarmulke would unduly upset important military interests, drew unusually harsh responses from both dissenting justices and legal scholars. Yet, upon closer examination, perhaps what stands out most about the events surrounding the Goldman decision is the untold story of the case, which differs in significant respects from the official version of both the facts of the dispute and the ensuing litigation. The official narrative characterizes the facts as simply presenting a dispute between a Jewish soldier wanting to wear his yarmulke during work and a commanding officer demanding strict adherence to the military uniform protocol. However, the unofficial narrative demonstrates how much of the story was the result of personal factors, such as personal animosity between parties and passionate opinions from judges that seemed to drive each stage of the legal process.

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60 A.F.L. Rev. 205