Two siblings filed a federal lawsuit claiming that their rights are being violated because the Washington state's high school tennis championship tournament continually includes scheduled play on Saturdays, their day of Sabbath.
On Tuesday, a complaint was filed with the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Washington against the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association on behalf of Seventh-day Adventist siblings Joelle and Joseph Chung.
The case was filed after Joelle was not able to compete in last year's Washington state tennis playoffs despite having an undefeated season because the championship tournament was scheduled to conclude on a Saturday.
As Seventh-day Adventists, the Chungs devote time for rest and worship each week from sundown on Friday until sundown Saturday. The lawsuit claims that because of their faith, the Chungs are prohibited from playing tennis during the Sabbath.
The lawsuit claims that the WIAA refused to accommodate the siblings' religious convictions when scheduling state high school championship tennis tournaments.
"Although WIAA schedules no state championship tournament play on Sundays, and although it schedules many other state championships to take place entirely during the week, WIAA typically schedules the 2A boys’ and girls’ state tennis championship tournaments to conclude on a Saturday," the lawsuit reads.
"As a result, Saturday Sabbath observers like J.G.C. and J.N.C. are prohibited from completing the state championship tournament, solely on account of their religious beliefs."
The lawsuit also accuses the WIAA of using a "hypothetical conflict" to prohibit religious believers from participating in the event entirely.
"Specifically, WIAA has interpreted its rules to prohibit players, on pain of penalty, from participating in any postseason competition if they are, or know they might be, unable to proceed through the 'completion of the championship event,'" the lawsuit states.
"This means that if the final day of the state championship tournament is scheduled on a Saturday, then a Seventh-day Adventist is prohibited from competing on every other day of postseason play as well."
The Washington state tennis postseason consists of multiple levels of tournaments that span weeks.
The lawsuit claims that while the WIAA has interpreted its rules to prohibit "religiously motivated withdrawals" from the postseason, the WIAA allows withdraws for secular reasons such as "injury, illness or unforeseen events."
According to the lawsuit, the WIAA rules force the Chung siblings to make a choice of either not playing in the tournament or "agreeing in advance to violate the Sabbath in the event of a conflict."
While Joelle was forced to sit out during the championship tournament during her senior season, her brother faces the same possibility next school year as the boys' state championship tournament again includes Saturday play on the schedule.
The family fears that without court intervention, Joseph, an incoming sophomore, will be disqualified from the tournament from the outset.
“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. “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.”
A WIAA spokesperson told The Christian Post that the entity does not comment on pending litigation.
The Chungs are represented by the Becket Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based legal group that seeks to defend First Amendment rights. The legal group also defended the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order of nuns who were victorious in its legal battle against the Obamacare contraception mandate.
“No student-athlete should be kept from competition because of their faith,” Becket attorney Joe Davis said in a statement. “The WIAA’s rule hurts religious minorities and students of many faiths who honor the longstanding practice of keeping the Sabbath.”