20 October 2022 | Oakwood Adventist Academy’s (OAA) lawsuit against the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSSA) was settled on September 27, 2022, with a decision that AHSSA would make future religious accommodations for Adventists or any other religious group that might object to playing on a specific day.
The lawsuit was brought against AHSSA this last spring, after OAA’s basketball team made it to the state tournament semi-finals in February, only to forfeit their game when it was scheduled during Sabbath hours. While the other three teams at the tournament agreed to change their game times to accommodate OAA, the request was denied by AHSSA, even after several petitions.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey affirmed the basketball team’s decision to stand up for their faith, and wrote a letter to the Alabama High School Athletic Association, requesting answers as to why they were not able to fulfill the accommodation, especially considering that the NCAA already accommodates Sabbath-keeping schools at the college level in national tournaments.
The AHSSA agreed to consider a new rule, allowing any team to submit days on which they object to playing for religious purposes, as long as they are submitted before the school year. Those days would then be taken into account for the scheduling of any post-season games.
“This new rule is a win for both the (OAA) Mustangs and the First Amendment,” said Joseph Davis, counsel at Becket. According to 1819 News, Governor Ivey also congratulated the team, stating that “Today’s vote by the Alabama High School Athletic Association is absolutely a win for religious liberty, and no doubt, a testament to the Oakwood boys and their convictions.”
According to NADNews, Todd McFarland, deputy general counsel for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, expressed his approval for the decision. “We are very pleased that AHSAA did the right thing,” he said. “We hope that moving forward, the rule AHSAA adopted becomes the new standard for state high school athletic associations. The NCAA implemented a similar provision years ago; it is time for high school level athletics to give similar respect to the diverse religious beliefs of their students and schools.”
The Oakwood Adventist Academy Mustangs basketball team photo, 2021-2022 season.