PLBC troubled by waiver requirement for student athletes, calls on PIAA to abandon waiver requirement

HARRISBURG, Feb. 21 – State Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Phila., chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, said that he and other caucus members were deeply troubled by 16-year-old Nasihah Thompson-King and other student athletes being excluded from participating in sports activities simply because of their religion.

Members are calling on the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association to abandon the waiver requirement because it unjustly profiles students based on their religion.

Harris said, “Requiring students to sign off on a waiver to prove their religion is unacceptable and completely unnecessary. We are calling on the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association to abolish this discriminatory rule. We must ensure that Pennsylvania students never have to endure the humiliation and mistreatment that Nasihah Thompson-King faced because she chose to wear her hijab.”

The PLBC vice chairwoman, Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Phila., said student athletes should not be forced to choose between their religion and participating in sports.

Bullock said, “The PIAA waiver put in place singles out young people for no other reason than their religious beliefs. Women of color have far too many obstacles to overcome as it is. Nasihah’s head garb in no way impedes upon her ability to play basketball or any other sport. It’s time for the PIAA to correct this wrong and update their policies regarding the place of religion in sports uniforms.”

State Sen. Sharif Street, D-Phila., said, “The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s procedure requiring student athletes to fill out and submit a waiver to freely exercise their religion while competing in sporting events places an undue burden on the free exercise of religion at a public institution. This amounts to a ‘religious’ waiver in direct violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the U.S Constitution. Moreover, the NCAA and the Olympic Athletic Committee have promulgated rules that make religious head-gear acceptable. The PLBC, as advocates of not only people of color but anyone at risk of systemic injustice, by either default or design, call on the PIAA to move to adopt a standardized process consistent with other athletic governing bodies that will comply with the legal guidelines of Pennsylvania’s Constitution as well as our U.S. Constitution.”

State Rep. Jason Dawkins, D-Phila., said, “I am saddened to hear that we are still allowing our schools and athletic leagues to discriminate against students due to their religions and methods of religious expression.  There is simply no practical reason that a waiver should be required for any student to cover her hair during a sports game.  This behavior was unacceptable decades ago, and is certainly unacceptable in 2018 – we are long overdue for reforming systems that require litmus tests of faith or require students to jump through hoops, all to practice their chosen religion.”