Religious Discrimination Averted? High School Sports League Amends Constitution to Avoid Sabbath Furor
HOUSTON (TheBlaze/AP) — An Orthodox Jewish school that drew national attention when a Texas school organization initially refused to reschedule a semifinal basketball game that conflicted with the Sabbath is back in the state semifinals this weekend. But this time without the controversy.
Beren Academy and its players don’t play basketball games between Friday night and Saturday night in observance of the Sabbath. That created a conflict last year, as TheBlaze reported at the time, when Beren advanced to the semifinals and was scheduled to play at 9 p.m. on a Friday in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial School’s 2A boys basketball tournament.
TAPPS at first would not move the game time. But after a group of parents filed a complaint in federal court citing religious discrimination, and the controversy brought national attention to the small Houston school, TAPPS relented. Beren won its semifinal game, rescheduled to Friday afternoon, then lost the championship rescheduled for late Saturday night.
“It was tough, just because it’s out of your control in a lot of ways,” Beren coach Chris Cole recalled Thursday. “I mean that from a lot of different standpoints. When so many people get involved, you don’t have any say in a lot of things that other people decide to do.”
This year, Beren will play its semifinal game at 1 p.m. Friday. Although the championship is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, it will be moved to 8 p.m. if the Stars advance.
Cole said he’s relieved that his young players won’t be at the center of a national debate, and that he won’t have to talk to them about the likelihood of not getting to play for a championship because of their religious beliefs. The players were unanimously ready to accept that last year, saying their faith outweighed the chance for athletic glory.
Beren officials met with the TAPPS executive board in June, and TAPPS added a bylaw to its constitution to accommodate schools when the scheduling of athletics events overlaps with religious observances.
“The point of the meeting was to make sure everyone was on the same page,” TAPPS director Edd Burleson said Thursday. “There was a general consensus that accommodations should be made for those schools that required it.”
TAPPS currently has 237 schools enrolled across Texas, and Burleson said Beren is one of five schools that could potentially be aided by the new bylaw. Beren is one of two Orthodox Jewish schools in TAPPS, and there are three Adventist schools, which also observe the Sabbath.
TAPPS’ nine-member board was initially worried that making such changes would create a ripple effect of logistical challenges, with the other teams playing in the semifinals having to adjust to Beren’s scheduling conflict. The new rules leave more room for contingency plans, including lining up alternative gyms and officiating crews.
“It would just provide more advance planning for what occurred last year on the spur of the moment,” Burleson said. “It’s pretty obvious that there were some things learned, and there were adjustments made.”
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