Nebraska’s Catholic bishops have called for the reversal of a new school athletics participation policy that would recognize gender identity, not biological sex, as a standard for student athletes.

The Catholic schools in the Nebraska School Activities Association are dismayed by the association board’s “arbitrary, non-collaborative decision” on the policy vote, the Nebraska Catholic Conference said Jan. 14.

“Member-schools and parents must make every effort to reverse an NSAA board action that compromises fairness, equality, privacy, safety, and respect for Nebraska’s high school students,” said the conference in a statement signed by the state’s three bishops.

The conference said student athletes, parents and member schools of the association are discouraged that the association “ignored their concerns.”

“The board’s decision circumvents the will of the voting members expressed in the democratic process that was recently completed,” the conference added.

The activities association’s membership had voted in district meetings Jan. 6 and 13 to continue to require athlete participation in sports to be based on the sex of a student’s birth certificate. Four of the six districts voted in favor of the 'sex at birth' policy.

However, on Jan. 14 the association’s board voted 6-2 to create a process for students who identify as transgender to take part in sports based on their chosen gender. The process would allow individual school districts to decide on participation, the Lincoln Journal-Star reports.

The board rejected a proposal to table the policy vote until the association’s legislative assembly meets in April.

Now only a super-majority vote at the legislative assembly could change the policy.

The activities association’s interim director, Jim Tenopir, said that the new policy allows religious schools to follow their beliefs. The policy also puts the burden of legal defense on the schools, not the association.

If a school decides a transgender student is eligible to play, the association’s gender-eligibility committee would rule on the case based on documentation about the student’s gender expression from a health care professional and from friends, teachers, or family.

Male students who say they are female must document a year of hormone therapy, a requirement intended to address concerns that men are physically larger than women. Self-identified transgender students must use private bathrooms and locker rooms, or those that match their biological sex.

The Nebraska Catholic Conference backed the birth certificate policy favored by the activities association districts.

The state’s bishops stressed the need to show respect and support for those who experience gender dysphoria. However, they said this respect “must be provided with due consideration to the fairness and the safety, privacy, and rights of all students.”

The bishops said it would be unjust “to allow a harmful and deceptive gender ideology to shape either what is taught or how activities are conducted in our schools.”

They said the policy choices would have religious liberty implications.

Backers of the policy change said it would provide opportunities for more students, while some transgender activists said the change did not go far enough and was excessively intrusive and exclusionary.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska said the new policy exposes the activities association and schools to litigation. It cited the Title IX protections under federal law, which are increasingly being broadly interpreted.

Existing association policy allows girls to wrestle or play football because there is no comparable girls’ sports.