A Fairfax judge is expected to rule Thursday if the county school board violated the constitutional rights of two Orthodox Jewish girls, seniors at Woodson High School, by allowing their graduation to be scheduled on Saturday, the Jewish sabbath.
Circuit Judge Thomas J. Middleton was asked yesterday by the attorney for twin sisters Lynn and Susan Stein to order graduation rescheduled for "a religiously neutral time" rather than Saturday, June 7.
Michael Hausfeld, the Steins' attorney, argued that "the question is, are these students in essence being punished because of their religious beliefs . . . There must be compelling state interest for these students to waive their rights to a free exercise of religion."
Thomas Cawley, the school board's attorney, argued that the students have no constitutional claim because the ceremony is of little importance.
Witnesses for the board testified that graduation exercises have degenerated into entertainment and occasions that are difficult to manage because of drunkenness.
Witnesses testifying for the sisters described commencement as a rite of passage and a dignified and solemn occasion.
Cawley also warned the judge that a decision in the Steins' favor would open the courts to a wide range of suits. "I urgently plead with the court not to send the state down the road of having to accommodate every aspect of life," he said. If the judge decides in favor of the steins, he said, "we will be at the mercy of at least 1,200 religions and I don't know how many cults."