ACLU of Tennessee and American Muslim Advisory Council Request Rule Changes to Allow Student Athletes’ to Wear Religious Attire Without Special Permission

October 21, 2020

Lindsay Kee, 615-320-7142

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and the American Muslim Advisory Council sent a letter to the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) today asking the entity to remove the requirement that student athletes get prior approval before wearing religious headgear.

The letter was sent in response to a September 15 incident in which a Muslim student at a Tennessee high school was disqualified from competing in a volleyball match because she was wearing a headscarf, or hijab, in accordance with her religion. According to news reports, a TSSAA-approved game official barred the student from competition because her head covering did not comply with TSSAA rules concerning headgear and TSSAA had not granted prior approval for the student to wear the hijab.

“We have Muslim girls across Tennessee playing sports and they should not need permission to freely exercise their religious rights in any setting,” said Sabina Mohyuddin, executive director of the American Muslim Advisory Council.  “Instead of upholding unnecessary barriers that discriminate against Muslims, the TSSAA should be championing all athletes’ full participation in sports, regardless of religious practice.”

The letter states that “Students should never have to choose between participating in interscholastic sports and the free exercise of their religious beliefs; nor should they have to take on additional administrative burdens in order to participate where their peers of different faiths do not.” The letter argues that such a requirement could violate students’ right to freely exercise their religion under the U.S. Constitution, the Tennessee Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Students have a right to freely exercise their religious beliefs at school and at school sporting events,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee executive director. “Fortunately, the TSSAA can easily ensure that it protects this right by updating its rules to exempt religious attire from its uniform requirements and by ensuring that students exercising their religious beliefs do not have to jump through administrative hoops that other students do not. We urge the TSSAA to make these changes immediately to ensure that students are not discriminated against when they practice their religious faith.”

The TSSAA rules are derived from rules put forth by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Recognizing the burden that these rules placed on student athletes’ religious exercise, several states, including Ohio, Maryland and Pennsylvania, have authorized deviations from the National Federation of State High School Associations’ rules.

The letter calls for the TSSAA to exempt religious head gear from its uniform standards and remove the requirement that student athletes must get prior approval to wear religious attire.

A copy of the letter sent today can be found at: