Wednesday, June 20, 2007
South Anchorage High School Jewish Student Cries About Cross-Country Meet Scheduled For Yom Kippur
A Jewish student on the South Anchorage (Alaska) High School cross-country team has complained to the Anchorage School Board about the fact that the Anchorage School District's annual cross-country regionals meet is scheduled for Yom Kippur. Original story published in the Anchorage Daily News; this post summarizes the story.
Brian Kirchner, a Jewish student who will be a senior at South High next year and who has been a member of the school's cross-country team since his freshman year, testified at last week's school board meeting that "it isn't fair that he or any other student has to choose between the most important religious observance of his faith and an event that would be the peak of his high school cross-country experience". He noted that it's his last chance to run against people he's competed against since his freshman year.
"For the upcoming running season, I'm going to be a senior and I want to succeed at regions for my final year of competition," Kirchner said. He claimed that none of this would be happening had the district had listened to a task force that convened a couple of years ago. At the time, the task force recommended that groups wanting to hold extracurricular activities on special religious days should have to get permission first from the Anchorage School Board. Ellen Kirchner, Brian's mother, served on that task force; she told the Anchorage Daily News that when her son was presented the same choice in 2004, he chose not to run in the meet.
The cross-country regionals meet, a major sporting event for Anchorage students, has been scheduled for Saturday, September 22nd, 2007, at Kincaid Park. But September 22nd is also Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), one of Judaism's holiest days, similar in status to Easter for Christians, or Ramadan for Muslims. Complicating the issue is the fact that the 2004 cross-country regionals also occurred on Yom Kippur, and the 2006 meet on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). Apparently, this repetitive pattern is leading some local Jews to believe they are being "persecuted". Oy, vey!
During the school board meeting, John Clark, who coaches cross-country at Dimond High and has represented the other coaches from that sport with whom they've coordinated meet dates, also testified. He said that when they first realized the event fell on Yom Kippur, most still preferred that Saturday -- the last day of the cross-country season. Clark also brought up the famous case of Sandy Koufax, a Jewish pro-baseball player who skipped a World Series game that fell on Yom Kippur, as an illustration of how one can make personal choices. "We all deal with personal conflicts in our life," Clark said. "We all have to make decisions. I think as educators and coaches we need to help students make those choices, not avoid them".
When school board member Jeff Friedman asked why the meet could not be re-scheduled for Sunday, September 23rd, Clark reminded the board that Sunday events are against the rules. Clark further stated "We're talking about 400 runners. Of that, about 100 are varsity. And of that, I may be wrong, but I believe only one of those athletes is Jewish". Friedman ignores the fact that Sunday is the traditional Christian Sabbath, although the jam-packed parking lots of our local malls on Sunday would seem to belie that point. This is a reminder to us Christians - if we don't respect and honor our own religious traditions, how can we expected non-Christians to respect our traditions? This is one major reason why Islam is on the march worldwide, while most of Christianity is in retreat.
Gary Matthews, executive director of the Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA), which organizes interscholastic athletic events, addressed the Sunday rule at length. First, he explained that said the Sunday prohibition is not because it's the mainstream Christian Sabbath, but it's because of schedule logistics, travel, and even labor agreements with teachers and coaches.
Matthews also explained that Saturday, September 22nd is the deadline for regional competitions, and that, while ASAA has granted occasional waivers for Sunday games, they have never allowed a regional tournament to go on after that deadline.
Matthews also claimed that ASAA honestly didn't know that Yom Kippur fell on September 22nd when they set the date of the meet, even though it was at least the third time ASAA scheduled the event on a Jewish high holy day. Complicating the issue is the fact that, because Yom Kippur is based on the Jewish calendar, it does NOT fall on the same day each year on the mainstream calendar, unlike Christian holidays. The same problem exists with Muslim holidays, based on the Islamic calendar, which is why Ramadan begins on a different day each year. Since ASAA plans twenty state championships within a nine-month period every year, one can begin to appreciate the complexity of the problem, particularly if other minority groups start demanding that all their "holy days", such as the Chinese New Year, Tet, etc., be considered. As a matter of fact, this is exactly why ASAA doesn't look for these dates.
"If we look at a Jewish holiday, but don't do it for any other holiday, we could be accused of discrimination", said Matthews. Instead, ASAA uses the following standard: If a holiday is one that would cancel school -- like Christmas, Fourth of July or Thanksgiving -- ASAA won't hold activities those days.
Anchorage School District Superintendent Carol Comeau said she would have stopped the Yom Kippur-timed meet had she known about it in advance. In the fall of 2005, she recommended that student activities not be held on important Christian, Jewish, Russian Orthodox, Muslim and other faiths' holidays. "It's just time to recognize that we are a very diverse community," Comeau said. "And our students should be able to participate in their religious practices just like we expect the Christians to be able to participate in theirs. We're not going to schedule school events on these very significant holidays. We don't schedule them on Easter; we don't schedule them on Christmas. To me, it's the same thing".
Analysis: This is a classic situation illustrating how "diversity" and "multiculturalism" complicates our lives, even down to the grass roots level in a community without the history of violent racial polarization present in other American cities. The imposition of the "diversity" agenda requires that competency and efficiency take a back seat to proportionality. Kind of a nasty trade-off for more ethnic restaurants, isn't it?
Making an exception for Jewish religious holidays, BY ITSELF, would have a negligible impact. The real problem is the precedence that would be set, a precedence that even the legally-trained school board member Jeff Friedman doesn't seem to grasp. If we ban interscholastic athletic events from taking place on Jewish religious holidays, other groups will seize upon this as a precedence to embark upon litigation to get "their days" likewise exempted. It would be only a matter of time before local Muslim activists (mercifully few in Anchorage, thank "Allah") would demand that Muslim students in ASD schools be allowed to leave their classrooms for their "five daily prayers", creating even more disruption in the name of "diversity". And this has already happened down in Seattle; Muslim students in Seattle Public Schools are allowed to leave their classrooms during the school day to engage in "prayers".
Furthermore, since when is it fair for one student to dictate the agenda for the 399 other students who are runners? This would be the tyranny of the minority. Government is supposed to stay out of religion as long as religion obeys the law. Even the Anchorage Lubavitch community was smart enough to recognize this, and withdraw its sponsorship of the proposed Jewish commuinity center in Rogers Park when the local neighborhood virtually erupted in protest over the logistical nightmare which would have ensued from its construction and operation. It seems like the current standard usede by ASAA (if a holiday is one that would cancel school -- like Christmas, Fourth of July or Thanksgiving -- ASAA won't hold activities those days) is adequate. However, it would not be inappropriate for the Anchorage School District to explore the possibility of allowing some athletic events to take place on Sunday when other days are not available and upon prior approval by the School Board. It should remain the exception rather than the norm, but it should be allowed if clearly needed.