Adventist siblings win religious exemption for high school tennis tournament

Joelle (R) and Jospeh (L) Chung
Joelle (R) and Jospeh (L) Chung | Becket

A pair of teenage siblings who belong to the Seventh-day Adventist Church won a lawsuit securing a religious exemption from a tennis tournament in Washington state due to the games taking place on Saturdays, during their Sabbath.  

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association agreed to add religious observance as a reason for missing a game without being penalized in response to a legal complaint by brother and sister tennis players Joelle and Joseph Chung.

The Chungs, who along with their parents had sued the WIAA over not including a religious exemption, filed a motion to withdraw on Tuesday in response to the change.

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“Under the amended rules, it will not be a violation for J.N.C. to enter the postseason, and then withdraw, if necessary, upon reaching a point at which participation would be inconsistent with J.N.C.’s observation of the Sabbath,” read the motion.

“In light of the effect of these changed circumstances on Plaintiffs’ need for preliminary relief against WIAA by mid-October of this year, Plaintiffs hereby withdraw the pending motion for preliminary injunction ...”

Becket, a law firm that handles religious liberty cases and represented the Chung family, considered the result to be a “partial victory” since the 2020 championship game will still be held on a Saturday, likely preventing the Chungs from participating.

“No student-athlete should be kept on the sidelines because he has the ‘wrong’ faith,” stated Joe Davis of Becket. “It’s a step in the right direction that Joseph is now able to play in postseason, but we will continue fighting for a solution that will ensure that Sabbath observers can compete all the way through the state championships on the same terms as all other student-athletes.”

Earlier this month, the Chungs filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Washington against the WIAA after Joelle was unable to compete in last year's Washington state playoffs despite an undefeated season because the championship tournament was scheduled to end on a Saturday.

As Seventh-day Adventists, the Chung family devotes time for rest and worship each week from sundown on Friday until sundown Saturday. Because of their faith, they are prohibited from activities like playing tennis games on the Sabbath.

"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," stated the lawsuit.

"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."  

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