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School sports must accommodate religious needs, state court holds

By The Associated Press
06.06.03

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon education officials must reasonably accommodate the religious practices of students when scheduling high school sports tournaments, the state appeals court said yesterday.

The ruling in the discrimination case, which the plaintiff's lawyer called unprecedented, stems from the Oregon School Activities Association's scheduling dispute with a Seventh-day Adventist school in Portland.

Students at the Portland Adventist Academy don't participate in competitive activities on the Sabbath, which runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. That conflicts with the consolation round for the annual statewide boys high school basketball tournament, which is played on a Saturday afternoon.

The court's ruling sends the case back to the state Board of Education, which must decide whether the OSAA tried to reasonably accommodate the students' religious needs.

Charles Hinkle, who represented the academy, called the case groundbreaking, saying it was "the first we know of where a court has ordered a school activities association to make accommodations for religion."

Jonathan Radmacher, an attorney for the association, was optimistic the board would find in the OSAA's favor again.

In 2000, students asked the OSAA to change the schedule so they could take part if they reached the playoffs. The OSAA refused, saying they would not be eligible for the tournament if they didn't agree to play if necessary on Saturday.

The students appealed to the Board of Education, but lost again. Students and parents then took the case to court, citing a state law barring religious discrimination in state-funded school activities.

The school was ineligible for playoffs in 2001 and this year because of the OSAA's scheduling requirements. The academy took part in the playoffs last year while its appeal to the Board of Education was pending.

In its ruling, the court said the board left unresolved whether a reasonable accommodation was possible by changing Saturday game times or venues, allowing a forfeit that would still keep a team in a tournament, or other options. It was not immediately clear how changing venues would constitute a religious accommodation.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon joined in the case on the school's behalf.


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