Two Washington state students have won a battle to protect athletes from having to compromise their religious beliefs to play sports.
Facing a lawsuit from siblings Joseph Chung, 15, and Joelle Chung, 17, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association gave in and changed its rules after disqualifying Joelle Chung from a May tournament because she does not play on Saturdays, Fox News reported.
The Chungs are Seventh-day Adventists, a Protestant denomination that observes the Sabbath on Saturday.
“It’s an important win for religious student-athletes in Washington and sets a favorable precedent nationwide,” said Joe Davis, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious LIberty, a law firm that specializes in religious liberty cases and represented the Chungs.
“It’s common sense that Sabbath observers shouldn’t be excluded from any postseason sports competition at all just because of the hypothetical possibility of a schedule conflict somewhere down the line—and after the rule change, they won’t be,” he said.
ICYMI: Siblings Joelle and Joseph Chung, who are #SeventhDayAdventists, are challenging a rule that does not provide accommodations for them to play in Washington state championships while observing their Sabbath.https://t.co/AwIZzhw4Uz @UPI @Becketlaw @wiaawa #religion
— Pamela Manson (@PamelaMansonSLC) August 15, 2019
The Chung family had filed suit against the WIAA, but dropped it when the group agreed to change its rules, which had disqualified any athlete who did not compete on all days of postseason matches, including qualifying tournaments.
Paul Chung, Joelle’s father, said his daughter’s priorities were clear.
“She was disappointed that she couldn’t help the team but she shouldn’t have to choose between religion and playing tennis,” he told “The Ingraham Angle” earlier this month, according to Fox.
High school tennis player Joelle Chung stands up for true Sabbath keeping like a true 7th Day Adventist! You go girl! pic.twitter.com/AUFUB0fBt2
— Evan Williams (@EvanWil07688207) August 13, 2019
“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,” Joelle Chung said in a statement at the time of the lawsuit being filed, according to The Washington Times.
“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.”
Prior to the May finals, she had been undefeated.
However, the rule change will help Joseph, a sophomore, avoid the fate his sister suffered.
In a statement on Becket’s website, Davis said the issue is not fully resolved.
The WIAA has said it cannot change the date of the 2020 finals, which means another athlete could face the same conflict that sidelined Joelle Chung.
“It’s a step in the right direction that Joseph is now able to play in postseason, but we will continue fighting for a solution that will ensure that Sabbath observers can compete all the way through the state championships on the same terms as all other student-athletes,” Davis said in the statement.
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