In public high school and collegiate sports, the demands for uniformity of athletes’ uniforms required by various school associations — and the demands of an athlete’s religion — have sometimes clashed.
In Nashville, Tenn., a 14-year-old was not allowed to play in her volleyball match because of wearing a hajib, a religious headscarf.
Many schools have reportedly forbidden religious headwear, citing safety concerns.
Many associations’ rules require a coach or student to apply for a waiver to wear apparel not otherwise permitted under such rules. Without a waiver being granted, Rudolf will not be allowed to play in any reindeer games.
In Illinois, not so.
Effective this July, the General Assembly has passed legislation allowing modifications to athletic uniforms worn in competition. This applies to all primary schools subject to the Illinois school code, and to public universities and community colleges.
Such schools must allow a student-athlete to modify his or her athletic or team uniform due to the observance of modesty in clothing or attire in accordance with the requirements of his or her religion or his or her cultural values or modesty preferences.
The modifications may include but aren’t limited to the wearing of hijabs, undershirts or leggings. The student is responsible for all costs associated with the modification of the uniform.
But the student shall not be required to receive prior approval from the school for such modification.
A school can provide the modification to the student at its cost if it chooses.
However, any modification of the uniform must not interfere with the movement of the student or pose a safety hazard to the student or to other players.
The modification of headgear is permitted if the headgear: (1) is black, white, the predominant color of the uniform, or the same color for all players on the team; (2) does not cover any part of the face; (3) is not dangerous to the player or to the other players; (4) has no opening or closing elements around the face and neck; and (5) has no parts extruding from its surface.
Movement is afoot across the nation to allow what was previously not allowed for religious accommodation in athletes’ apparel.
Indeed, many sports apparel makers now market hajibs for use in all manner of sports competition, each style customized to meet the demands of the particular sport.
There is no crystal-clear rule on what happens if an interstate association’s rule on uniforms clashes with a particular state’s rules.
There’s no question that the public school in question is bound by its state’s laws.
But the interstate associations themselves are private organizations to which federal constitutional First Amendment freedom of religion protection generally is not afforded to athletes.
However, when those associations are comprised of governmentally formed educational institutions, it may be a heavier cross to bear for such associations to ban religious apparel which do not threaten the safety of the athletes.
Any governmental actor imposing a restriction on religious expression may only do so to advance a compelling governmental interest while using the least restrictive means to advance that compelling interest.
Illinois’ new law attempts that.
Caesar’s pitch must be well delivered to avoid God’s bat.