Friday, April 6, 2012

Jewish, Muslims and Basketball | Casey's Last Word

The recent controversy involving a Houston Jewish high school basketball team and the Texas Association of Parochial and Private Schools, or TAPPS, has died down.

But there’s still some unfinished business.

The kids at Beren Academy take both their religion and their basketball seriously.

How seriously?

They got all the way to the state championship semifinals wearing their yarmulkes while competing.

As you probably are aware, the Beren boys were temporarily stymied when the TAPPS board brought national ridicule upon itself by unanimously voting not to allow the boys to change the semifinal game from Saturday afternoon until Saturday night in order to honor their Sabbath, even though their opponents had no problem with the switch.

The players voted to forfeit the game rather than violate their religious beliefs, but some of their parents went to court.

Only then did TAPPS agree to allow the game to start a few hours later than scheduled.

Beren lost the game by two baskets, but they had a great season and generated a great story.

Most fundamentally it has a primordial theme, one common in children’s books: a theme of adults acting more immaturely than kids.

TAPPS Director Edd Burleson said Beren knew when it was admitted in 2010 that some play-off games were played on Saturdays and agreed not to make it an issue.

Rules are rules, but is there harm in modifying them when they are hurtful to children?

Fair play is the most fundamental rule of sports, and TAPPS schedules no Sunday games because some of its schools are fundamentalist Christian.

The dust seemed to have settled when Burleson, the TAPPS director, suggested this week that the TAPPS board may discipline Beren Academy because it didn’t withdraw from the tournament.

That’s only part of the unfinished business.

The other is TAPPS’ treatment of Islamic schools.

At least three applied a couple of years ago and were sent questionnaires that could only be regarded as hostile.

One question: “It is our understanding that the Koran tells you not to mix with (and even eliminate) the infidels.

Christians and Jews fall into that category.

Why do you wish to join an organization whose membership is in disagreement with your religious beliefs?”

At least two Islamic schools decided not to respond to the questionnaire.

The Iman Academy in Houston did and its head was invited to an interview with the TAPPS board.

There he was asked, among other questions, where he stood on the proposed mosque near the fallen World Trade Center towers.

His school was not admitted.

“Our kids are just as American as their kids,” an academy official told the New York Times. “We just wanted to play ball.”

I don’t know how many Muslims there are in San Antonio, but there are more than 100,000 in Houston.

Like Jews and the myriad varieties of Christians in America, they have assimilated while holding on to their religious traditions.

Catholic officials understand.

The Texas Catholic Conference Education Department, an arm of the bishops, called TAPPS’ treatment of the Muslim schools, and Beren Academy, “unacceptable.”

They added that the 43 Catholic schools that make up 20 percent of TAPPS may have to reconsider their membership.

Jews understand, too.

After listing some of the questions asked of the Muslim educators, a writer for the Jewish Advocate concluded: “Let me be very clear that this is not just demeaning to Muslims, but offensive to all people.”

TAPPS can take care of the problem by adopting a simple slogan: “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not … to play ball with each other.”

With apologies to Mark.

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