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Mock trial squad seeks bias probe

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A Jewish day school’s championship mock trial team claims it is being discriminated against and has asked for a federal investigation.

The families of the three students who comprise the squad at the Maimonides School in Brookline, Mass., have asked the Justice Department to investigate the National High School Mock Trial Championship for refusing to alter its schedule to allow the Sabbath-observing students to fully participate in the competition.

In a letter to the department’s Civil Rights Division, attorney Nathan Lewin said the Maimonides students are effectively being denied any chance to win the May 6-10 competition in Atlanta "based solely on their religious observance" and that violates the Constitution.

The team from suburban Boston,  the Massachusetts state champions, would not be able to participate in mock trials between sundown Friday and nightfall Saturday.

Tournament officials denied a request by the parents to have the schedule changed for two of the approximately 100 trials during the competition. The parents offered to absorb any additional cost to rent rooms to accommodate the change.

In response to a letter earlier this month from the Anti-Defamation League requesting such an accommodation, John Wheeler, the chair of the mock trial organization’s board of directors, said a change to the schedule for similar reasons in 2005 "unreasonably affected the conduct of the national tournament and forced unreasonable alteration to the planned schedule of events."

After the 2005 competition in North Carolina, in which the schedule was changed for the Torah Academy of Bergen County in New Jersey, the mock trial organization adopted a resolution barring future accommodations for Shabbat. In response, the New Jersey State Bar Foundation and North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers dropped out of the organization and began an alternative competition that is held during the week.

In addition, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution condemning the mock trial organization for its refusal to make accommodations for Sabbath-observing competitors.

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