Oakwood Adventist Academy Sabbath Accommodation Suit Settled

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On September 27, 2022, the case of Oakwood Adventist Academy (OAA) vs. Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) was resolved with a promise that AHSAA would reschedule all games that conflict with the Sabbath of the seventh day. OAA filed suit against AHSAA earlier in 2022 after OAA was unable to participate in the AHSAA State Basketball Tournament in February when Sabbath lodging was been refused.

In the lawsuit, OAA, an Adventist school in Huntsville, Alabama, USA, asked AHSAA to adopt reasonable religious accommodations in its programming policy. The First Amendment requires functional accommodations that allow teams like the Mustangs to participate equally in competitive sports, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) already hosts Sabbath-keeping schools like the University of Washington. ‘Oakwood in national tournaments. These accommodations help ensure that unpopular or minority religious groups (such as Orthodox Jews or Seventh-day Adventists) are not left out of the playing field or forced to give up their beliefs.

The new rule adopted by AHSAA provides that member schools that object to playing on any day must notify AHSAA each fall prior to the school year. The association will then reschedule any postseason games that conflict with the school’s religious beliefs. Regular season games have not been a problem because the schools schedule them among themselves.

Beyond the game

After earning a berth in the AHSAA semi-finals, the OAA high school boys team was scheduled to play on Saturday, February 19, 2022, one hour before sunset. The OAA has submitted several requests to AHSAA for an accommodation that would involve changing the previous game with a game later in the evening, after Sabbath hours (Seventh-day Adventists follow the practice of keeping a bedtime Sabbath from sun on Friday to sunset on Saturday). The other three teams scheduled to play that day had all agreed to the change that would allow OAA to play in the final game, but AHSAA denied accommodation requests.

“The OAA stands firm in its beliefs and painfully but proudly relinquishes its Saturday/Sabbath playoff game scheduled for this afternoon at JSU and its hard-earned shot at the Alabama State Championship due to its firm biblical belief in the seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath. observance,” OAA director Judy Chiles-Dent said after news broke that the school’s Sabbath accommodation had twice been denied.

On February 22, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey sent a letter to the OAA director praising the OAA for its position on the Sabbath. Ivey also invited the OAA team to the Alabama state capital to meet and share their experience. Ivey said she felt connected because of a shared faith.

“Their selfless display of sportsmanship in attending the Jacksonville State University playoff games, despite their forced withdrawal, to cheer on the teams who have so graciously agreed to host your team’s Sabbath observance, is an inspiring example for competitors and athletes around the world,” Ivey wrote. .

At the time, Ivey also wrote to AHSAA, asking them for answers on why an accommodation could not be made.

“At the start of this season, our head coach Melvin Allen told the boys that one of the goals of their team was to be a witness for Christ and to be champions for Christ. And I think that season has been a great success for those team goals,” said OAA Athletic Director Calvin Morton. “The boys are champions for Christ because they [stood] for something they believe in.

“We are very pleased that AHSAA did the right thing,” said Todd McFarland, associate general counsel for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. “We hope that advancing the rule adopted by AHSAA will become the new standard for state high school athletic associations. The NCAA implemented similar provisions years ago; it is time for high school athletics to equally respect the diverse religious beliefs of its students and schools.

The original version of this story was published on the North American Division news sites.

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