As Walter Sobchak (of Big Lebowski fame) once said: "I don't roll on Shabbos."
In that vein, Orthodox Jewish students at a Boston-area high school are petitioning the Justice Department to investigate the Board of the National Mock Trial Championship for refusing their request to amend its schedule to accommodate Sabbath-observers.
Maimonides School’s mock trial team won the Massachusetts statewide competition in March. The team is scheduled to compete in Atlanta for the national qualifying trials on May 8 and 9 -- a Friday and a Saturday, meaning the team would have to sit them out for "reasons of religious conscience and observance," wrote the group's attorney, Nathan Lewin of D.C.'s Lewin & Lewin. (The Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown Friday and ends at nightfall Saturday.) Lewin is asking the department to “take such steps as are authorized by law to prevent and remedy the unlawful discrimination that is being perpetrated.” The letter says the board would have to reschedule two out of about 200 trials to allow the team participate.
The board has denied the team’s request to reschedule the trials, despite support from the Anti-Defamation League and a 2005 House resolution condemning the board in a similar case for acting “inconsistent with the freedom of religion or equal protection.” When the mock trial team of the Torah Academy of Bergen County, N.J., won their statewide competition in 2005, the board accommodated the Sabbath-observers but soon after adopted a resolution barring any future revision to the mock-trial schedule, according to the letter.
Justice George Carley of the Georgia Supreme Court, a member of the national mock-trial board, says the system broke down in 2005, when the board had to shuffle the deck for Torah Academy, which is why members passed the resolution. "It just didn't work," he says. The schedule-change made power-matching -- pitting teams with similar records against one another -- difficult.
"We tried everything in the world to work with them," Carley says. We're not discriminating against anyone. It's just our schedule."
The mock trial championship is traditionally held in state courtrooms and draws on local judges and other officials from the legal community to officiate. The letter notes that it’s unclear whether public funds are used to sponsor the event.