The Fairfax County judge who ruled on Saturday graduation exercises brought memories to my mind.
Two orthodox Jewish girls had asked that graduation day for Woodson High School be changed from Saturday to some other day so that the grils could attend without violating their Sabbath.
The sisters were scheduled to deliver the valedictory at the exercises.
The school board had resisted the change from Saturday, and had offered some unusual reasons for its position. Among other things, the board argued that graduation isn't really an important occasion. In fact, people sometimes drink too much at graduations, so perhaps one shouldn't be too anxious to attend them.
Strangely enough, this general theme was upheld by the court's ruling.
Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Thomas J. Middleton showed far more concern for the rights of the sisters than the school board had. But he ruled against them anyhow.
The judge concluded that the sisters' rights would no be violated by holding graduation exercises on Saturday because graduation is "a voluntary thing." Nobody is required to attend. "There's no penalty for not attending."
The implication is that it's no big deal whether an honor student chooses to attend her own graduation or doesn't. She might want to stay home and wash her hair instead.
The memories really came flooding back when I read the judge's words. I recalled how people had resented being shunted to the back of the bus, and how they had fought for the right to sit any damn place there was an empty seat.Black Americans had also found it necessary to deal with judges who thought nobody's rights were being interfered with -- presumably because riding the bus is a voluntary thing. Nobody is required to ride a bus. There's no penalty for not riding a bus.
Fortunately for this nation, our black citizens persevered and established their entitlement to equal rights and equal protection under the law.
Much progress has been made. But the task is not yet finished.
Many residents of Fairfax County are unhappy with their school board's great victory. They think that once the sisters pointed out the painful choice forced upon them by a Saturday graduation date, the school board should hve responded with sympathy and understanding, and should have moved the exercise to another time. The issue should not have been forced into the courts.
They also think that after a suit became necessary, it should have been resolved in the spirit of a Constitution that champions freedom of religion and upholds "the free exercise thereof."
Now, alas, the entire graduating class faces a difficult choice.
Woodson's seniors can say, "Yes, boss," and move to the back of the bus. Or they can politely decline to attend a ceremony from which their valedictorians have been effectively barred. After all, the school board and the judge said graduations aren't very important, didn't they? So why attend? Why not let the school board and the judge have the entire auditorium to themselves?
The judge and the board members will not be required to attend, of course. They too, are free to boycott the graduation if they wish.