When the National High School Mock Trial Championship board of directors decided in October never again to accommodate students with religious restrictions, the state of New Jersey immediately withdrew from the national competition. Last week, the Garden State was joined by North Carolina, the host of last year’s national championship, at which Teaneck’s Torah Academy of Bergen County was allowed to participate with an altered, Sabbath-observant schedule.
The North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers (NCATL), the sponsors of the statewide North Carolina mock trial competition, has announced that it, like the New Jersey Bar FoundationNew Jersey’s mock trial sponsorsis removing itself from all future national competitions.
"Last year," said Dick Taylor, CEO of the NCATL, "we were very pleased with the way we worked out that competition, and the accommodation (for Torah Academy) caused no hardship to anybody."
Said Taylor, "We were horrified that the national board would decide in advance never to accommodate religious values again. Their decision is inconsistent with our experience in Charlotte."
In Charlotte, Torah Academy participated in one round of competition on Thursday night and then in three rounds on Friday, as opposed to most other teams, who competed in two rounds on Friday and two on Saturday.
The national board’s decision, according to Taylor, is intended to maintain the integrity of the competition’s "power matching" scoring system and to minimize disruption to the competition schedule. However, in a letter to John Wheeler, director of the national board, Taylor indicated that he did not think either goal would be accomplished in this way.
"The accommodation (in Charlotte) had little impact on the power matching scoring system and provided minimal disturbance to the existing schedule," wrote Taylor. "Most importantly, the accommodation made for the students of New Jersey demonstrated sensitivity, fairness, and religious tolerance."
In addition, the national board’s claim that altering the schedule would force the competitors to miss additional days of school is "less compelling," according to Taylor, "because most of the kids came [to Charlotte for the championship] on Wednesday, and missed several days of school anyway."
"In the end," Taylor continued, "this is fundamentally a question of fairness and values. No student should have to choose between his or her faith and participation in this competition."
Taylor said that the national board has not yet responded to North Carolina’s decision, and that the only way North Carolina would rejoin the national competition is if the national board agrees to accommodate teams of all faiths.
Meanwhile, the 16 teams currently vying for this year’s North Carolina mock trial state championship have been advised that the winner among them will not be participating in the national competition.
However, Taylor said the NCATL is "committed to working with the New Jersey Bar Foundation to come up with some alternative [higher] competition."