High school tennis players who observe the Sabbath on Saturday have challenged a Washington state athletics association in court, saying its rules wrongly disqualify them from participating in the tennis postseason.
Joelle Chung and her brother Joseph Chung, represented by the religious freedom legal group Becket, are challenging the rules of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, saying it should allow religious accommodations like it grants similar accommodations for other players.
Joelle was undefeated in her 2019 senior season playing for William F. West High School in Chehalis, Washington. She expected to win the qualifying tournaments to advance to the state tournament, which was scheduled for a Saturday. Both siblings are Seventh-Day Adventists who observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday through rest and worship, Becket said.
The tournament disqualified Joelle from all participation in the postseason, though her religious conflict with the tournament fell only on the last day.
The athletics association is authorized by state law to schedule interscholastic sports and other activities. Its failure to accommodate the Chung siblings’ religious observance and its discrimination against religious exercise is “unconstitutional” and “illegal,” charged the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
Joe Davis, legal counsel at Becket, said Aug. 7 that the athletics association’s failure to provide religious accommodations “hurts religious minorities and students of many faiths who honor the longstanding practice of keeping the Sabbath.”
“No student athlete should be kept from competition because of their faith,” he said Aug. 7.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association told CNA it does not comment on pending litigation.
Association rules require all participants to certify they will be able to participate in each level of the tournament to qualify for the championships. The rules make exceptions for injury, illness, or unforeseen events.
The Chungs had proposed moving the state championships or allowing Joelle to participate in the qualifying tournaments and use an alternate for the championships – the practice of athletes who are injured or ill. However, the association rejected these proposals.
Joelle is challenging the rules in hopes that her brother Joseph can participate in the state championships.
“As a senior, it was hard giving everything I had to support my team all season, only to be forced to sit out the entire postseason simply because of my faith,” she said. “I’ll never get the chance to play for a state championship again, but hopefully this case will protect other Seventh-day Adventists like my brother from having to choose between sports and their faith.”
Joelle’s coach Jack State discussed the lack of accommodations for her religious objections to Saturday play in comments to the Lewis County-based newspaper The Daily Chronicle earlier this year.
“It’s disappointing, she’s worked hard for four years to put herself in a position to try to do the best she can and she’s not being allowed to do that,” he said.