Sunday, February 7, 2016

Can school athletes be affiliated with religion?

The disqualification of a high school cross country runner because he wore a headband with a religious verse during a Class AAAAAA state championship race at Carrollton High School Saturday has brought legislation on religious expression on school athlete uniforms. The Georgia High School Association disqualified Green for wearing a white headband with “Isaiah 40:30-31” written across the front. According to Green his coach allowed to flip his headband inside out and that it would make it legal. The referee in the game told Green the rules which stated an item in the game such as a piece of uniform had to be adorned except for a logo. The referee told the coach and the athlete that he could not wear the headband and the athlete did take it off although the coach and athlete were both mad. During the match the referee said he noticed the headband with the bible verse still on athlete and told the timer to DQ the runner and paged the coach and informed him of the disqualification. John Green would of placed 3rd out of the 226 total runners who were at the meet. John Green told the press that he will never forget the race and that they can’t take away how well he did. The referee released a statement saying “After being informed that the headband was illegal, the athlete removed the headband and the meet referee assumed he would run the race without it. However, at some point after that, the coach and the athlete made the decision to ignore the warning and the headband was put back on. Since the athlete then ran the race with apparel that had already been ruled illegal, there was no choice but to issue a disqualification.”

What is this disqualification going to cost John Green? He loses a potential $500 scholarship from the Atlanta Track Club. Although this scholarship is given to the top seven member of the club a vote amongst the coaches in the club agreed that John Green was still eligible despite the DQ.

The issue at hand deals with multiple rules in the NFHS and the GHSA rule book. These rules give the referee permission to disqualify a player when breaking the rules stated about “illegal” uniforms.

Personally I do see where the problem is where the kid is representing his school and so shouldn’t represent a specific religion with the school which is affiliating his school with a religion. However I do not see the harm of an athlete who wishes to put a religious quote on this headband. Will people actually see this and get offended? Is the athlete associating his school with a religion by him associating himself with a religion?

10 comments:

Liz S. said...

I too, am conflicted in determining whether the student should have been able to wear the headband during a track meet. The student does have a freedom to practice, but he also is representing his school while running and thus since the school is a public school and there can be no establishment of religion. I believe that the student can still practice without the headband, and so more is at stake by him wearing the headband and representing his school. Also in terms of being disqualified, the student was warned and told to remove the headband and so I think it is fair for him to be disqualified since the student knew his actions were against the rules, and yet he chose to break them anyway. Thus I think the refs and track association were in the right in choosing to disqualify the student for breaking the rules even though he had been told to remove the headband.

Rebecca J said...

I think the main issue in this situation is whether or not the student would have been disqualified for wearing this headband if it did not have any words written on it. Some athletic events do have specific rules about not wearing articles of clothing that are not part of the school issued uniform, which could have been why the student was disqualified. However, it seems like there are often exceptions to these rules on uniformity in relation to religion. For example, female athletes are often permitted to wear hijabs or additional covering if their religion requires them to do so. In this case, an exemption is made from the rules that require athletes to wear only school issued uniforms in order to accommodate religious beliefs and protect their first amendment rights. I think the case discussed in this blog post differs because the student's head band is not directly required by his religious beliefs, but an extension of them. By not wearing the headband, the student would not have been violating his religious beliefs but an athlete not wearing additional covering or a hijab would have been. In this sense, the student's free exercise of religion is not being violated by being asked to remove the head band as long as he would still have been disqualified if the headband did not have religious connections.

Natalie K. said...

I believe that the student should not be permitted to wear the headband during the meet solely because the cross-country team is part of a public institution. Therefore, the student’s action of wearing a headband that is associated with a religion is considered an establishment of religion because the student is a representation of his public school. Since funding for public schools comes from the government and taxpayer investment, the argument that the student’s right of free exercise of religion is being violated, is invalid. If he attended a private school and was a member of the cross-country team there, this would not be an issue at hand, unless any article of clothing besides the uniform are not permitted.

Lauren C. said...

I think that this issue could have been due to the religious significance of his headband, however it is impossible to know for sure. The student was told to take off the headband because the mere article of clothing is prohibited by the rules of the meet. He knowingly disregarded the rules which is essentially why the ref disqualified him. If the headband had no writing on it, the ref might have still disqualified him due to the fact that he was blatantly breaking the rules even after the ref told him to take the headband off. Taking the religious aspect out of this situation, the ref was right in is decision to disqualify the student. However, the fact that the coach instructed the student to flip his headband inside out alludes to the idea that he knew the ref would react negatively to the religious phrase and not necessarily the headband itself. It is hard to tell what would have happened if the headband had no writing or was flipped inside out, but the ref was following the rules of the specific meet and did not mention anything about the religious phrase on the hat. Therefore, he made the right decision in disqualifying the runner.

Hannah L. said...

I do believe that the referee had the grounds to disqualify John Green from the cross country meet, and I am in agreement with a lot of Rebecca's arguments. Headbands were illegal at the meet whether or not they were of a religious nature. And in this particular case, Green's beliefs did not require him to wear the headband. Although the headband had "Isaiah 40:30-31" written on it, that was not the reason he was disqualified. Any headband that had anything on it other than a logo was deemed to be illegal in the race. Green was even given a warning that if he wore the headband he would be disqualified, but he wore it anyway. If this were a case in which Green's religion compelled him to wear something specific during the meet, I think this would be a different issue. But in this situation particularly, I think the referee was in the right.

Alex Puleo said...

I believe the referee had grounds to disqualify Green. The rules pertaining to the race stated that all apparel worn had to be affiliated with the school, and had to be represented with some sort of school logo or insignia. However, Green made the decision to wear a piece of apparel without his school's insignia or logo, which is why the referee forced him to remove the headband. Green then ignored the ref's instruction, and still wore the headband during the race. Now the question comes into play: did the ref have him remove the headband due to the tie to the Christian religion, or due to the fact that the headband failed to display the school's insignia? Either way, the headband broke the rules, forcing the ref to disqualify Green.

Sara G. said...

I don't think this is really about religion, and more about following the rules of the event. The wording confused me a bit but it seems as if the rules stated that accessories could not have anything on them. This means that no message, religious or not, is allowed on the headband. I don't think that this is an attack on his religious expression, and simply an enforcement of the event's rules, which don't put down any religion, or even just religion as a whole, it includes all messages in its ban. The headband could have had a quote from his favorite athlete on it, it would still be illegal. By being told it was illegal and wearing it anyway, he blatantly ignored the rules of the event, so his disqualification was justified. I agree with you that there's no problem with allowing his religious headband, if this rule was not in place. If the runners were allowed to wear messages on their accessories I would see no problem with his, but facts are that messages at all are just not allowed at the event. I don't think this is a violation of his freedom of expression here because the headband isn't required by his religion, and the rules don't say that only religious messages are prohibited.

Lucy Fishell said...

To me, this doesn't seem like an event that is encroaching on this students religious freedom. The rules clearly stated that no apparel that didn't have the a schools insignia or be affiliated to the school. The fact that this was religious shouldn't matter, if it had something other than the schools logo it was not allowed. The referee would have been forced to disqualify him for wearing the headband even without the religious text on it.

Kiriko Masek said...

This story can relate to last weeks article on the cheerleaders and whether or not they were allowed to make banners with religious phrases on them to hold during games. In that scenario I decided that the cheerleaders should not be allowed to hold the religious banners because if they are wearing a school uniform, then they are therefore representing their school. In this case with the headband however, I more torn about the situation. I believe that Green was wearing a school track uniform and therefore should abide by the schools rules and do as the school asks because he is representing the school. If the school had asked him to take the headband off then he should have taken it off, but his coaches and I'm assuming the school had not issue with it so he therefore should have been allowed to wear the headband. It should be the schools decision, not the timer at the meets decision to reprimand him for wearing the headband. Since Green's own school had no problem with him representing his religion, he should not have been disqualified by an outside authority.

Rosalie said...

I think the referee did have the right to disqualify the runner. On the one hand, people have the right to wear religious symbols in public, but headbands with writing on them are not symbolic religious pieces that are required by the religion, like a burka. Defining what does and does not count as a religious symbol gets tricky when asked to define it from an outside perspective, which could lead to policing religious wear. In this case the symbol in question is not a religious requirement, and headbands as a whole were banned from the meet. One other aspect is that it is difficult to say whether by wearing this religious symbol while in school uniform, he was also representing his school in this religious gesture. I believe that although he is an individual, track is an individual sport, especially at the upper levels, so he was at this meet essentially representing his school.