A win for religious freedom in high school sports Alabama High School Athletic Association adopts new rule to accommodate Sabbath requests
Ryan Colby 202-349-7219 firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON – Oakwood Adventist Academy today announced that the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) has adopted a rule that would adjust game schedules to accommodate religious requests, a change that comes in response to a lawsuit filed earlier this year. The case Oakwood Adventist Academy v. Alabama High School Athletic Association arose after Oakwood’s boys basketball team was forced to forfeit a semi-final tournament game scheduled on their Sabbath. Today’s action by AHSAA provides lasting protection for religious schools and their athletes and will serve as an example for other states.
Oakwood Academy is the oldest Black Seventh-day Adventist school in the U.S, and in 2022, the basketball team set a school record: they made it to the regional semi-finals. But their big game was scheduled on a Saturday at 4:30 p.m., forcing the school to choose between playing the game and keeping their Sabbath. Seventh-day Adventists consider the Sabbath, from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, holy. During this time, they do not work or play competitive sports games, an obligation taken seriously by all Oakwood Academy students and staff.
Because of their religious beliefs, the team requested to swap game times for the later 7:30 p.m. slot, a request that the other teams competing in the playoffs agreed to. However, AHSAA denied the request, resulting in Oakwood having to forfeit the semi-final matchup. Today’s rule change ensures that championships will be decided on the field and on the court.
“We applaud AHSAA for doing the right thing,” said Todd McFarland, associate general counsel for the General Conference for Seventh-day Adventists. “The new rule allows the Oakwood Mustangs to give their all both in their faith and in their sport.”
Consistent with the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s rule for religious accommodations, the new rule will guarantee that schools from minority faith traditions are not excluded from the playing field or pressured to abandon their beliefs for a shot at the big game. The First Amendment requires workable accommodations in state sports to allow participants of all faiths to compete on an equal basis.
“This new rule is a win for both the Mustangs and the First Amendment,” said Joseph Davis, counsel at Becket. “We hope that other state athletic associations will follow AHSAA’s lead so that no school or student will ever be excluded from participating on account of their faith.”
For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby at email@example.com or 202-349-7219. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.