Jonathan S. Tobin The role of faith in the public square has become an issue in the presidential campaign recently, but no candidate has done more to advance the cause of freedom of religion in this country thana Houston-area Jewish school. The Robert M. Beren Academy had won a chance to play in the state’s parochial school basketball championships semi-finals this weekend. But since their game is scheduled for Friday night during the observance of the Sabbath, the team will not compete.While the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools is facing some justified criticism for its refusal to make any accommodation for the Jewish team, the honor the school will win for standing up for their principles far exceeds any glory they might have gotten by playing the game.
The Anti-Defamation League has weighed in on the controversy and asked the organizers of the championships to bend a little and find a way to reconfigure their schedule to allow the Beren Academy their chance. The group’s position is the same rules should apply to all schools, but Beren’s win in the state quarterfinals was made possible because their opponent, Our Lady of the Hills, which is a Catholic school, were willing to move the starting time up last Friday to the afternoon before the Sabbath started. But because the private and parochial school group is a voluntary rather than a state-run outfit, the Jewish school cannot legally demand a reasonable accommodation. The association’s decision seems hard-hearted. But if they choose not to budge, it must be acknowledged that sometimes there is a price to be paid for loyalty to faith and principle. That’s disappointing for the kids at Beren, but it’s also something for them to be proud of.
In his book The Gift of Rest, Senator Joseph Lieberman spoke of the beauty of Sabbath observance. But he also demonstrated that his insistence on not working or conducting business as usual for the 25 hours that stretch from sundown on Friday to the appearance of the first star on Saturday has won him the respect of the non-Jewish majority in his state and the nation. There are times when being faithful to one’s principles will necessitate sacrifice, and it’s a shame the kids at Beren are learning that this week. Yet, in refusing to bend to the dictates of the majority, they have done more to honor the cause of faith than the histrionics of football star Tim Tebow. No matter who wins the state basketball championship in Texas this year, the Beren team is the true champion.