The Robert M. Beren Academy is an Orthodox Jewish school in Houston, TX. Its men’s basketball team, the Beren Academy Stars, qualified for the Division 2A state championship tournament – but, since the games fall during the Jewish Sabbath, the team has chosen to withdraw from the tournament on religious grounds.
If Beren were a member of a secular sports league, or even a member of an explicitly Christian league, all I’d really have to say to them is “tough luck.” The rest of society is not obligated to cater to Beren’s religious restrictions, and the school would have known that from day one.
But Beren is affiliated with the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS), a sports league for private and religious schools all over Texas. I can’t cite you the ratio between religious and nonreligious private schools in Texas, but in my days playing for a TAPPS-affiliated school, I seem to remember only a single nonreligious opponent in my region. A glance at TAPPS’ membership list bears that memory out.
During the regular season, Beren’s opponents were willing to change game times on Fridays to accommodate the Jewish Sabbath. Back in 2010, TAPPS even accommodated a Seventh-Day Adventist school (which keeps the same Sabbath as Beren) by moving the start time of a soccer semifinal, but claims it has since changed its bylaws to make this impossible. Brett Haber, a blogger for The Washingtonian, reached TAPPS director Edd Burleson on the phone and had this exchange:
Haber: “Do you guys hold games on Sunday mornings?”
Haber: “Why not?”
Burleson: “Because that’s the rule of our association.”
Haber: “By playing on Friday nights, but not on Sunday mornings, does that give an unequal amount of respect to the Jewish Sabbath?”
Burleson: “There were no Jewish schools in TAPPS when it was established, and they came into the league knowing what our policy was.”
Haber: “So, now that you have Jewish schools in the league, why not change the policy?”
Burleson: “Why should we allow one or two or three schools to dictate what 120 other schools do?”
Haber: “Some would call that being inclusive.”
Burleson: “I don’t recall “inclusive” being in our constitution.”
The air is thick with Christian privilege.
TAPPS’ refusal to be accommodating, despite its non-sectarian eligibility requirements, is just one more example of Christianity’s pride of place in American culture. It’s telling (but unsurprising) that an organization which, on its surface, promotes religious tolerance is really only welcoming to Christian schools.
On the other hand, of course, is the obvious question of why keeping the Sabbath is so freaking important in the first place. Rabbi Harry Sinoff, Beren’s head of school, explains:
Rabbi Sinoff says he will be content to forfeit the game. He says doing so will not only maintain the immutable sanctity of the Sabbath, but will also turn the episode into a teaching moment for his students. The lesson: No personal or secular glory is worth the sacrifice of one’s ideals. “If my house caught fire during Shabbat, and no one was inside and no one was in danger, and it was simply a matter of property loss, if I were true to my beliefs, I would let the house burn down,” he says. “These kids are being asked to let their house burn down.”
So… pointless suffering makes you a better person? Yeah, that sounds like religion in a nutshell.
UPDATE: TAPPS will abide by a temporary restraining order requiring them to accommodate Beren. The league is currently working to reschedule the games.