Thursday, May 7, 2009

Kiddush Hashm! HS Students Keep Shabbat, Denied Opportunity to Compete in National Finals for Mock Trial


UPDATE MAY 7: The situation was resolved! G-d Bless Superior Court Judge Doris Downs and Elizabeth Price, who both did the right thing.

Here's the story from JTA:

Mock trial Shabbat controversy resolved

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- A mock trial competition will alter its schedule so a team from a Boston Jewish day school can participate without having to compete on Shabbat.

The National Mock Trial Championship made the decision after Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Doris Downs told event organizers that they could not use the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta unless the team from the Maimonides School was allowed to fully participate, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"We're going to do our best to make sure the competition is fair to all," John Wheeler, chair of the mock trial organization's board, told the newspaper.

The three-member team from the Maimonides School, which won the Massachusetts state championship, asked the Justice Department last week to intervene in the case after the mock trial organization refused its request to change the schedule.

Maimonides wanted all four of its rounds to be held Thursday and Friday before sundown because it could not compete between sundown Friday and nightfall Saturday. Tournament officials said such a change, which occurred four years ago at the request of a New Jersey Jewish day school, "unreasonably affected the conduct of the national tournament."

The new schedule will allow the Maimonides team to start the tournament Thursday afternoon. In addition, if Maimonides reaches the final, the start of the championship round would be delayed from 5 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

The schedule change comes after a member of the State Bar of Georgia, which sponsored the event, resigned in protest over the refusal to change the schedule. Elizabeth Price, chairwoman of the Anti-Defamation League's Southeastern Regional Office, said she quit the board because it "was not dealing with the situation appropriately."

UPDATE: Jewish member of the State Bar of Georgia, Elizabeth Price, resigns over Mock Trial discrimination.

There are some people who shrink and give up when faced by a challenge, and there are some people who show their mettle. Those who show their mettle are people of integrity, of faith, and of inspiration.

These young people, HS students Mamonides Day School in Brookline, MA, won their state championship in Mock Trial and went to the national finals in Atlanta expecting to be treated with respect, dignity, and fairness. Why should they expect anything less?

They worked very hard for many years to hone their skills, to work as a team, to prepare their cases carefully, and to polish their presentations. However, when they got to Atlanta, instead of fair competition, they were subjected to an unbending set of rules which disqualified them because of their religious faith.

This also happened to a young girl in Florida last year who was competing in the Queen of the Hill Basketball Three Point Championship. The Florida Athletic association wouldn't allow her to change her competition dates and she was also disqualified for keeping Shabbat.

When faced by this horrible situation, these young people refused to trade their faith for a championship, and they, instead, served as an inspiration to all of us who are witnesses to this wonderful Kiddush Hashm!

Good for them! They are learning something of much greater importance than winning a tournament. They are learning, first hand, about what it means to stand up for what you believe in and fight for the rights that you and others have been denied.

They are learning to keep the Laws of G-d despite the laws of man.

May all of these young talented people grow in Torah, in Mitzvot, and in Wisdom, and may their school be the object of thousands of dollars in donations for teaching these young men and women to retain their values and their faith.

National Mock Trial Competition Encounters a Real Legal Challenge
Courtesy of Jeffrey J. Kosowsky
Article Tools Sponsored By
Published: May 5, 2009

ATLANTA — The nation’s top high school mock trial competition has become an actual legal battleground.

Earlier this spring, the Maimonides School, an Orthodox Jewish day school in Brookline, Mass., won the state mock trial championship — and with it a coveted spot in the prestigious national competition in Atlanta this weekend. But the finals of the tournament fall on Saturday, and the students do not compete on the Sabbath.

When tournament organizers refused to tweak the schedule, the students’ parents and school officials did what supporters of any attorney-in-training might do: they hired a lawyer, Nathan Lewin, a renowned litigator who has tried cases before the United States Supreme Court. Mr. Lewin filed a complaint of religious discrimination with the Department of Justice, which promised to investigate.

The Anti-Defamation League also sent a letter of complaint to the National High School Mock Trial Championship, and parents expressed their concerns to Georgia’s attorney general and the state bar association, the host of the competition.

“We care about our children getting to participate,” said Jeffrey J. Kosowsky, a consultant whose son, Michael, is a team captain. “We don’t care about suing, but we want to make sure that they take this seriously.”

The students, whose school had never won a state championship in any activity, were crestfallen when told of the national scheduling problem. But they were also excited about their new role.

“The idea of a mock trial being in the middle of a real legal battle is pretty cool,” said Leah Sarna, 17, another captain.

Her father, Jonathan D. Sarna, a well-known professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University, said the team was learning a legal lesson about “what it means to be a minority group.”

The team will compete in the tournament on Friday but will not be able to win the championship.

In 2005, another Jewish school competed in the tournament, which was held in North Carolina that year. The schedule was changed for the team, but tournament organizers later adopted a rule against making special exceptions.

“We’re charged with running a fair and equal national competition for all of the teams,” said John Wheeler, the chairman of the mock trial board. “Who you play, when you play them, has a ripple effect on who you play next and the outcome.”

Mr. Wheeler said he did not believe that the federal government had grounds for investigating, but added that he was taking the necessary precautions.

“Yes,” he said, “we’ve retained counsel.”

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