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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘TAPPS’

Vindicating Principle

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Nathan Lewin writes eloquently in his front-page essay in this week’s Jewish Press about the successful effort to secure the right of religious Jewish students to compete in a basketball tournament despite having been being scheduled to play on Friday evening.

As it turned out, the refusal of the students to violate the Sabbath was just the beginning of the episode. But we can be justly proud of all the media coverage revolving around a group of Orthodox Jewish students at Houston’s Beren Academy who had decided not to participate in a prestigious basketball competition if it conflicted with the requirements of their faith.

The tournament sponsors, the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, refused to accommodate a request for rescheduling. This is what TAPPS director Edd Burleson said:

When Beren’s [sic] joined years ago, we advise them that the Sabbath would present them with a problem with the finals. In the past TAPPS has held firmly to their rules because of schedules are changed for the schools, it’s hard for other schools…. If we solve one problem we create another problem…. If the schools are just going to arrange their own schedule, why do we even set a tournament? Over a period of time, our state tournament, which is a highlight of our association, deteriorates to nothing. That’s the whole point of having an organization.

Of course, Mr. Burleson was trying to paper over the fact that the schools Beren Academy was going to compete against had agreed to change the time of the games in order to meet the religious needs of the Beren players.

But the valor of the students is not the only part of the Kiddush Hashem here. The accommodation of the students’ religious needs was secured through the intervention of Mr. Lewin, an internationally acclaimed attorney and well-known Orthodox Jew who since the late 1960s has, in a pro bono capacity, pioneered the notion that the reasonable accommodation of religious needs in the context of standard societal practices is an aspect of the American value of the right to the free exercise of religion. He has done this in various venues, including the United States Supreme Court.

It is also noteworthy that officials of the Beren Academy and other members of the Houston Jewish community were reluctant to commence legal action. As Mr. Lewin’s daughter and law partner Alyza Lewin, said “There was resistance to our bringing the lawsuit. We’re sorry that there are members of the Jewish community who are reluctant to challenge bias and prejudice. But this case shows that sometimes legal action is necessary to get a result.”

We agree. We believe that responsible resort to the American legal system is the right way to go for the Jewish community in protecting the rights of its members who, after all, constitute a religious minority.

Playing For A Higher Authority: The Inside Story Of Beren Hoopsters’ Kiddush Hashem

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

On Tuesday, February 28, it was widely reported that the basketball team of Houston’s Robert M. Beren Academy had “forfeited” its place in the semi-finals of the tournament conducted by the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) because it would not play on Friday night and Saturday. But a headline in Friday’s New York Times read: “In Reversal, a Jewish School Gets to Play.”

This is the story of what happened during those three days.

Beren is one of a few Modern Orthodox Jewish high-schools in Texas. Its male graduates customarily spend the year after graduation attending yeshivot in Israel. And it had a superb basketball team this year – good enough to make it through the preliminary rounds in the TAPPS annual basketball tournament. Those victories qualified it, along with three other Texas teams in a field of 32, for the final four – the select teams that compete in a final set of matches and then in the final game for the statewide championship.

And there came the rub. The games to be played by the final four were scheduled by TAPPS to be held on the night of Friday, March 2, and during the day on Saturday, March 3. The Beren administration and its basketball coach had successfully arranged with other opponents in the TAPPS league to reschedule matches that had initially been scheduled for Shabbat. The TAPPS bylaws and rules authorized rescheduling by mutual agreement. Beren’s potential opponent in the scheduled semi-final game, the Dallas Covenant Christian School, agreed it would compete early on Friday afternoon rather than in the evening to accommodate the Sabbath observance of the Beren team.

But when the agreement was presented by Beren to the TAPPS administration – and particularly to Edd Burleson, the founder and director of TAPPS – Beren received a jolting “no.” In an e-mail dated February 27 – the Monday before the scheduled Friday semifinal game – Burleson not only said that “the TAPPS Executive Board has voted to deny your appeal to reschedule certain games in the State Basketball Tournament on March 2 & 3, 2012,” but went on to castigate Beren for having participated in the early rounds of the tournament.

According to Burleson, Section 138(c)(3)e of the interminable and dense TAPPS Rules permitted only teams that would certify that they would play in the playoff games “as scheduled” to play in the earlier rounds. TAPPS declared that Beren had forfeited its place in the semifinals and assigned the team it had defeated by 27 points to Beren’s place in the final four.

There seemed to be no time in which to reverse this outrageous decision. The following day’s media accounts, including The New York Times in a featured full-length account, treated Beren’s exclusion from the TAPPS semi-finals as a fait accompli – much as it might report after-the-fact on an execution.

Beren enlisted Texas senator John Cronyn, Houston mayor Annise Parker, and other notable public figures in an effort to pressure Burleson to change what seemed, to most sensible observers, a foolish decision that smacked of religious bigotry. The TAPPS rules and bylaws declare proudly, in light of its normative Christian origin, that no game in any athletic competition run by TAPPS may be played on Sunday. Sabbath observance on any day other than Sunday was given no respect, even though TAPPS had admitted Jewish day schools and a Seventh-Day Adventist Academy located in Arlington, Texas.

The Seventh-Day Adventist school had been denied three requests for rescheduling of its basketball games. A semifinal soccer match in which it was a participant was rescheduled because all final four teams made the request, but the TAPPS administration decided it would never again make a similar rescheduling adjustment for religious accommodation.

* * * * *

I was called about this case on Monday night by Etan Mirwis, father of the Beren team captain. My daughter and law partner Alyza – who was a full-time colleague in this battle – also was contacted on Tuesday by two individuals who had worked around the clock in a remarkably similar 2009 successful effort to reverse a discriminatory decision by the National High School Mock Trial Association to exclude the Mock Trial Team of Boston’s Maimonides School from a final round in Atlanta because Maimonides would not compete on Shabbat. These volunteers on our team are Daniel Edelman (a lawyer who was a classmate of Alyza’s at Princeton) and Jeff Kosowsky (a parent of the 2009 Maimonides Mock Trial team captain). They spent many hours providing advice, assistance, and encouragement over the following three days.

Given the very brief window before the semifinal game on Friday, it seemed that only a prompt court action could provide relief. The concluding round was to be played in the Dallas area, and any lawsuit would probably have to be filed in that city. I remembered a good friend and colleague in the formidable 1960 Harvard Law School class (which boasted such stars as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the late former Chief Judge Richard Arnold of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, deputy attorneys general William Ruckelshaus and Phillip Heymann, senator Paul Sarbanes, Watergate prosecutor Earl Silbert, and many noted law professors).

Boxed Out: No Exceptions for Orthodox School in Texas Scheduled to Play Bball on Shabbat

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

An Orthodox Jewish school in Houston, Texas will not be playing its scheduled semifinal basketball game this weekend after its appeal to have the game moved from Friday night was rejected.

The Robert M. Beren Academy was informed on Monday that the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) board had unanimously rejected it’s appeal.

Since all the players on the team are shomer shabbat, there is no chance they will be taking the court, barring a time change. In comments to the Houston Chronicle, Beren’s basketball coach Chris Cole said, “It’s never happened where we’ve played during Shabbat, and it will never happen. The kids know that, and the kids are fantastic at understanding.”

Cole elaborated on the boards rationale: “They say the inconvenience of rescheduling the games outweighs any other factors.”

The players have become celebrities in their own right, not least for their conviction. “There’s nothing in the Jewish religion that doesn’t want us to play basketball,” Beren senior Isaac Mirwis said. “But it’s tradition, it’s principle, and we stick true to our principles and that’s what makes an identity … God doesn’t take a week off from us, so we can’t take a week off from God.”

Martin Chominsky, the Anti-Defamation League’s Southwest Regional Director, sent a letter to TAPPS urging it to reconsider its decision. Adjusting the schedule would allow the team to play “without having to choose between competing and observing their religious holy days.”

TAPPS director Ed Burleson conceded Tuesday that it was unlikely that the board would reverse its decision, and he remained unapologetic: “We think it’s clear-cut. They were advised, up front, that TAPPS would not change that, and they chose to join TAPPS anyway. There was never any indication from TAPPS that their appeal would be approved.”

Still, Beren had reason to hope after last week’s regional final, which was made possible solely on account of opponent Our Lady of the Hills Catholic school’s voluntarily assent to move the game from Friday night to early afternoon.

In the meantime, Beren has been replaced in the semifinal game by Our Lady of the Hills. Cole said the team is continuing to practice in the hope that the association reverses it course and reschedules the game. The finals are scheduled for 2 pm on Saturday.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/jewish-news/boxed-out-no-exceptions-for-orthodox-school-in-texas-scheduled-to-play-bball-on-shabbat/2012/02/29/

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