State sports group rejects Yom Kippur exception

Posted: Wednesday, June 27, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A state school sports group has denied a request to move a cross-country track meet to the Sunday after the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

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The Anchorage School District, with school Superintendent Carol Comeau's support, had requested the meet be rescheduled to avoid clashing with the Jewish high holiday.

Earlier this month, the School Board asked the Alaska School Activities Association to allow the Cook Inlet Conference championships to take place on Sept. 23 instead of Sept. 22.

When the association set Sept. 22 as the last day of cross-country competition for local school districts, its board didn't consider the fact that the date was also Yom Kippur, said Gary Matthews, the association's executive director.

Matthews said the board is not going to consider such holidays in the future.

"I think the implications of making accommodations for religious holidays, if you do it for one, then the next time a group comes and you don't do it, are you discriminating?" Matthews said. "It's not like there isn't respect for religious differences. It's just to try to accommodate every one of those would be practically impossible."

When the event was scheduled, Comeau voiced displeasure with the joint decision by Anchorage coaches to hold the tournament that day, saying the city is now a multiethnic community and cultural values should be respected.

A spokesman for the coaches replied that children have to learn how to make tough choices in life, including between their religion and their sport.

It's at least the third time the coaches have set the cross-country meet on a Jewish high holy day.

With the coaches' refusal to move the meet voluntarily, the School Board got involved, and gave Comeau authority to move it. Now that the association denied the request for Sunday, Comeau wants the meet held on the previous Friday, a school day. That's probably what will happen, those involved said Monday.

As a result of this latest collision of religion and rules, Comeau has asked the school board for new guidelines that would ban activities on certain major holidays for various religious faiths.

Comeau has said the district is diverse enough that conflicts between major religious holidays and large activities should not occur.

Allen Levy, who is Jewish and a member of local and state interfaith organizations, agrees.

"I think it's time that they recognize the state is made up with all kinds of people from all kinds of different faiths and nationalities, and there should be an ongoing program to accept those differences and acknowledge them," said Levy, former vice president of the Alaska Interfaith Council.

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