On a Wednesday night, members of the Robert M. Beren Academy thought their season was over. Even though they had won their last playoff game, the next game, a state semifinal, was scheduled for a Friday night at 9 p.m. against Dallas Covenant.  Unfortunately for the Beren Academy team and fans, the 9 p.m. game time conflicted with the Sabbath. Robert M. Beren Academy is a private Orthodox Jewish high school and will not play basketball during the Sabbath, which runs from Friday night until Saturday night. Upon learning of the time of the state semifinal, the school requested that the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) reschedule the game to accommodate the team’s religious beliefs.  TAPPS refused to reschedule and the game remained scheduled for Friday at 9 p.m., during the Sabbath.  TAPPS denied two appeals by the school to have the game changed, and the coach of Beren Academy, Chris Cole, cancelled practice Wednesday to have a team meeting and relay the bad news. According to Ed Burleson, director of TAPPS, the bylaws of TAPPS prevented them from granting Beren Academy’s rescheduling request.  Unhappy with TAPPS failure to act, a group of parents with kids on the team banded together and did the one thing that would get TAPPS to change its decision: they filed a lawsuit.

The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools failed to accomodate the religious beliefs of its Jewish Orthodox members.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Dallas, sought a temporary restraining order, requiring TAPPS to reschedule the state semifinal game.  The complaint, filed by Richard Rohan, a Dallas attorney, claimed the Beren Academy team was “being denied, solely on account of their religious observance, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete in their athletic conference’s state basketball championship tournament.”  Within a mere two hours of the lawsuit being filed, TAPPS agreed to reschedule the game without the issuance of a court order.  Later that same morning, a rabbi informed the entire student body of Robert M. Beren Academy that the game was now scheduled for Friday at 2 p.m., ensuring the game would be over prior to the beginning of the Sabbath.

In a culture riddled with frivolous suits, it is important to recognize the power of legal action as a catalyst for change. Although Beren Academy stressed that it was the parents, not the school, responsible for filing the suit, no one is doubting its role in influencing TAPPS to respect the religious beliefs of the Beren Academy team.  Although Burleson, the director of TAPPS, claimed that organization bylaws prevented them from rescheduling, the mere presence of a lawsuit persuaded TAPPS to seemingly ignore the bylaws it was relying on earlier.  Hopefully, other organizations responsible for scheduling activities involving various religious beliefs will attempt to accommodate all participants before facing legal action.  If TAPPS would have scheduled the game for 2 p.m. on Friday initially, a mere six hours earlier, the entire situation would be non-existent.

– Ryan Sawyer

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