GHSA Acts After Religious Expression Bills Introduced | Athletic Business

GHSA Acts After Religious Expression Bills Introduced

As two bills were recently introduced in the Georgia General Assembly that would prohibit bans on religious expression on uniforms, the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) is working toward allowing member schools to play against independent and parochial schools.

Currently, the GHSA does not allow member schools to compete with non-member schools — including private schools — even in informal scrimmages, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported. The GHSA also bans individual expression on uniforms, religious or otherwise.

On Wednesday, the GHSA’s board of trustees voted to allow its schools to set up games with schools in the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association (GICAA), and a similar agreement is expected with the Georgia Independent School Association (GISA), the Macon Telegraph reported.

The action comes a few days after the introduction of House Bill 870 and Senate Bill 309, which state that high schools that receive state funding “cannot participate in an athletic association which prohibits religious expression on clothing of student-athletes.” The House passed its bill, and sent it to the House rules committee. The Senate committee did not vote on its bill, the Journal Constitution reported.

The motivation behind the bills stems from an incident last fall when a cross country runner who finished third in a Georgia high school state meet was disqualified for wearing a headband that included the bible verse “Isaiah 40:30-31.”

In a statement released a few days after the state meet, the GHSA said the runner was disqualified not for what was written on the headband but for wearing it after he was told to take it off before the race. The meet referee warned the runner and his coach before the race that the runner needed to take off the headband (rules state that headbands need to be “unadorned except for a logo”), and the runner initially complied. However, according to the GHSA and the meet referee, the runner had decided to put the headband back on after the start of the race.

“I told the timer to DQ him, I paged the coach, and told the coach of the disqualification,” the meet referee said in a statement.

The GHSA referred to the National Federation of State High Schools Association rules book in making its decision to disqualify the runner.

Rep. Beth Beskin, a member of the House Education Committee, said that since the cross country runner was sanctioned for the headband rather than for the language on it, “It’s kind of a hypothetical problem at this point,” the Journal Constitution reported. 

Sen. Burt Jones, the lead co-sponsor of SB 309, said the runner “was just expressing his belief in his Creator” and found it “troubling” that he was disqualified, the newspaper reported.

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