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Washington Student Athletes Advance Religious Liberty Rights

October 2nd, 2019

Two student athletes in Washington initiated legal action against a sports association for forcing them to choose between their religion and their sport.
Two student athletes in Washington initiated legal action against a sports association for forcing them to choose between their religion and their sport.

Unlike many other Christian-based beliefs, Seventh-Day Adventists attend church on Saturday and believe this day to be the holiest day of the week, rather than Sunday. In addition to going to church on Saturdays, Seventh-Day Adventists treat the day as a time of rest, which put two student athletes in a bind.

In respect of this belief, a brother and sister in Washington recently initiated legal action against the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association because the sister was disqualified from her final state tennis postseason competition because she declined to play tennis on Saturdays. 

The Student Athletes That Initiated the Legal Action

Joseph and Joelle Chung are brother and sister. The two siblings are also skilled tennis players and devout members of the Seventh-Day church. 

Earlier this month, Joelle Chung was forced to miss a tennis championship game, which was held on a Saturday. She was disappointed that she was unable to help her tennis team, but she believed that she should not be required to choose between her religion and tennis. Joseph Chung also faced a similar complication. 

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association later denied the student athletes’ request for religious accommodation because regulations passed by the organization state that if athletes cannot commit to playing in every level of the tournament, they will not be permitted to participate in the competition and will be subject to a penalty.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) had no exception for student athletes with religious beliefs. As a result, the Chung family initiated a legal action against the association in a federal suit.

The outcome has marked a partial win for the student athletes. On a positive note, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association agreed to add religious observance as a reason for missing tennis games without being penalized. On a less positive note, the organization’s 2020 championship tennis game will still be held on a Saturday, which means that the Chung family will be left unable to participate in the event next year, as well.

In exchange for the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s decision to add this exception to its regulation, the Chung family agreed to withdraw its lawsuit.

Commentary on the Decision

The attorney for the Chung family has commented that the WIAA’s decision marks an important win for students who are conflicted in deciding between religion and church in Washington and also helps to establish a favorable precedent throughout the country.

After the WIAA’s decision, the family’s lawyer claims religious individuals will not be excluded from athletic events as a result of religious beliefs.

Following Developments Between School and Religious Beliefs

While the root of the required separation between church and state in this country extends back at least as far as the United States Constitution, there are still a number of gray areas involving this important area of rights. 

This why each month the Universal Life Church’s blog focuses on documenting the most noteworthy news regarding religious beliefs and public education in a manner that can easily be understood by the blog’s readers. 

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