An undefeated high school tennis player has filed a lawsuit against Washington state’s athletic league, accusing officials of religious discrimination for scheduling a championship match on Saturdays, which she observes as the Sabbath as a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The parents of Joelle Chung, 17, and her 15-year-old brother filed the lawsuit this week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Tacoma. It says the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association violated the children’s religious liberty by refusing to reschedule the state championships, a two-day tournament that ended May 25, a Saturday.
Both the Chung children are strict Seventh-day Adventists, who participate only in prayer and worship on Saturdays.
“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 said in a statement issued to the media by the law firm presenting her, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “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.”
Joelle, who graduated from William F. West High School in Chehalis, Washington, earlier this summer, had won all of her tennis matches in the regular season.
Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) rules stipulate that participants in the postseason tournament compete in every level of the competition, barring injury, illness or an unforeseen event.
According to court documents, WIAA officials refused to allow for a religious exemption in the Chungs’ case, even though tournaments for volleyball and golf have been moved to accommodate various churchgoers who observe Saturday as the Sabbath.
Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Christian denominations, along with Jews, would benefit from a new schedule that allows a religious exemption for Saturday contests, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit alleges that the WIAA as a “state actor” took a “purely hypothetical conflict” and used it to prohibit religious believers from participating fully in state school athletics, “even when there is no conflict at all.”
A WIAA spokesperson declined to comment to The Washington Times.
The Chungs’ lawsuit asks for compensatory damages and requests an injunction against the current scheduling of the 2020 2A boys’ tournament, which ends on a Saturday.
Attorneys cite Joelle’s 15-year-old brother, an advanced tennis player, who also will need to sit out should he be nominated by his team to compete in the postseason tournament.
“No student-athlete should be kept from competition because of their faith,” said Joe Davis, a Becket attorney. “The WIAA’s rule hurts religious minorities and students of many faiths who honor the longstanding practice of keeping the Sabbath.”