The students of the National High School Mock Trial are getting some real legal exposure this year with a claim of religious discrimination filed against the organization on behalf of the Maimonides School, an Orthodox Jewish day school in Brookline, Massachusetts. The organization has refused to change the calendar to allow the Orthodox students to compete on a day other than a Saturday.
The students at Maimonides School won the right to compete in the national competition in Atlanta — only to find out that it fell on the Sabbath. They have fired Nathan Lewin who filed a complaint of religious discrimination with the Department of Justice. While the calendar was changed in 2005 to allow a Jewish team to compete, the organization later adopted a rule against making such changes in the future.
It is not clear what legal grounds could be found against the organization in adopting such a rule. There are certainly arguments to be made against such a rigid approach. However, there may be a variety of different religious objections to the schedule of the competition from various religious groups. I would be surprised if the Justice Department investigation led to any actual findings of unlawful conduct. If this were the case, would any organization with a competition on a Saturday stand vulnerable to such a challenge? Weekends are obvious choices for competition to allow for travel to and back from the competitions. By setting Saturday, kids can travel on Friday and return home on Sunday before school. That would seem a valid and non-discriminatory policy.
Once again, I feel that an accommodation can be made in such cases. However, I do not see the viable claim of discrimination without creating a floodgate problem of litigation for private and public organizations.
UPDATE: The organization has decided to accommodate the religious needs of the school, here).
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