Home Education State laws allow college athletes to wear religious clothing

State laws allow college athletes to wear religious clothing

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A new law went into effect in Maryland this summer that allows college and high school athletes to wear clothing that has religious significance or to make changes in their form to suit their religious ideals.

The Inclusive Sportswear Law, requires governing bodies of public colleges and universities, boards of trustees of community colleges, and the Maryland Public High School Athletic Association to allow athletes to “alter athletic or team uniforms to make the attire more modest to conform to the requirements or preferences of the student-athlete’s religion or culture.” This means athletes can now wear headgear such as a kippah, hijab or turban, or wear additional clothing such as tank tops or leggings for religious reasons.

“Hopefully, no student in Maryland will ever have to worry about not being able to participate in an athletic event because of their religious beliefs,” said Zainab Chaudhry, director of the Maryland Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, which provided testimony to members of the state House and Senate on behalf of the bill. “This is long overdue. We are very grateful to the legislators who voted for the right side of history so that students do not have to choose between their religion and their passion for sports.”

The Maryland law was inspired by high school student Je’Nan Hayes, who asked CAIR to defend her after her basketball team was benched in the 2017 regional final because she was wearing a hijab. , for which she did not receive a ban signed by the state. Chaudhry said “numerous” Muslim families, mostly parents of high school students, have called on CAIR to support students who were barred from school sports because they wore hijabs.

The law was developed on the basis of a similar law passed in Illinois last year, which prevents public K-12 schools, colleges and universities from requiring athletes to refrain from wearing ceremonial clothing or changing uniforms for religious reasons. Utah too adopted a resolution in March of this year, which encourages colleges and universities, as well as public and private K-12 schools, “to allow youth to wear religious clothing or headgear or to change their uniform to conform to religious beliefs or personal values ​​of modesty without barriers or restrictions.”

Over the past two decades, some college athletes have made headlines for being among the first to don certain types of religious attire. Bilquis Abdul-Qaadir, who played women’s basketball for the University of Memphis and Indiana State University, became the first NCAA Division I athlete to wear a hijab on the court in 2010. Darsh Preet Singh made history as the first turbaned Sikh to play NCAA Basketball in 2004 while attending Trinity University in Texas.

But Simran Jeet Singh, executive director of the Religion and Society Program at the Aspen Institute and Darsha’s older brother, said there is no general policy that ensures college athletes can wear clothing with religious significance.

“Unfortunately, there is no standard policy that guarantees athletes in this country the right to play sports in this country while keeping their faith. I mean, besides the Constitution, of course,” he said in an email. “But it’s really a difficult task. Without rules that confirm the right of religious minorities to play, decisions are made at the discretion of those who interpret the rules – and we all know how badly that can end.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association generally requires students to refrain from wearing religious headgear, although this may change in the future.

“NCAA sports have historically discouraged the wearing of religious headgear during competition and are discussing rules that would allow headgear to be worn … so that student-athletes/schools no longer have to go through the waiver process,” the statement said. letter from the association. “Currently, they have to request a waiver, but again, the NCAA granted the requests.”

Some NCAA sports, such as women’s volleyball, women’s lacrosse and women’s bowling, have also relaxed uniform restrictions to be more inclusive and allow athletes to wear uniforms that vary in style and length. Some sports also have rules that allow religious medallions to be worn.

Aya Aldada, a cross country runner and track and field runner at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said the NCAA allows her to run in a hijab, leggings and tank top without a problem. But in high school, she had to get a waiver every year for a uniform change that her coach had to show Illinois High School Association officials at races. She believes the opt-out process likely deters other Muslim women from participating in high school athletics. This can be a hindrance to their college and professional sports.

“I think it stops them,” she said. “I think it’s such a barrier… People don’t want to go through that process of getting a waiver. They just prefer to play sports on their own,” rather than jump through extra hoops to be part of a high school team.

Aldada testified in support of the Illinois bill before a state House committee last March. She believes that such laws “will open many doors for athletes in hijab.”

Singh had a similar experience in high school in Texas. Coaches and referees wouldn’t let him play in soccer games because of his turban, so he got a special letter from the U.S. Soccer Federation that allowed him to play.

“But it was just for me and it was just a Band-Aid,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be wiser to change the discrimination [policy] rather than solving problems on a case-by-case basis? My older brother had to sit out one year of high school basketball because the governing body didn’t approve of his turban, and my younger brother also had to guarantee his eligibility to play college basketball in the NCAA.”

Chaudhry said the main argument made by opponents of religious clothing in school and collegiate sports is that bulky clothing poses a safety hazard, but she believes those issues “do not stand up to offense.” She noted that now there are hijabs specifically designed for sports.

Matthew Mayhew, a professor of educational administration at Ohio State University, said laws enshrining the right of athletes to wear religious clothing could draw attention to religious diversity, equity and inclusion on campuses. He is one of the researchers who launched the Longitudinal Study of Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes, or IDEALS surveya five-year project from 2015 to 2019 that explored how students interact with students of other belief systems and what makes students of different faiths and no faiths feel more or less at home on campuses.

“Many institutions put religion on the periphery of these conversations,” Mayhew said. But if more states adopt legislation like Maryland’s, “I think institutions will really have to focus religious diversity in the diversity conversation in a broader way, much more than they have in the past.”

He hopes campus leaders will think more broadly about “how do we create this welcoming climate for anyone who identifies as a different religion?”

However, he noted that the bills also address some potentially “tricky” issues related to religious symbols and college sports. For example, he said coaches should be aware of the potential power dynamics at play when they wear religious symbols, especially given “Christian privilege,” which he described as the dominance of Christian symbolism and history in the country and on some college campuses.

“When a coach wears something that conveys a certain set of values, and that set of values ​​silences some members of the team, or ostracizes certain team members, or makes team members think they have to do something to get the coach’s favor, that’s problematic, and that’s where the power comes in,” he said. “But if the players themselves just want to express themselves in some meaningful way religiously, I think that they should be able to do it.”

Singh said the Maryland law was a “decisive” step toward making religious athletes from minority religions feel more included.

“… It ensures the right of religious minorities to play organized sports without having to worry about how people might try to ban them, or without having to carry around stupid letters that say they’re allowed to play,” he said. . “Psychologically, I hope it will be liberating for people to no longer have to waste unnecessary energy on outdated rules that exclude them and give them the freedom to live their lives with more joy and openness.”

Aldada, an athlete at the University of Illinois, hopes more states will adopt such laws.

“If the whole country, state by state, could pass laws like this … I think we would see a huge increase not only in hijab athletes, but in many modest athletes in all sports,” she said. “I just hope people can understand the impact these bills will have on the diversity of sports.”

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