High school tennis star penalized for faith scores partial victory

A pair of Washington state high school tennis stars who were penalized for their faith have won a victory for religious liberty.

Siblings Joseph and Joelle Chung filed a motion this week to withdraw their federal lawsuit against the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association after its executive board agreed to change religious observance rules in competition, Fox News reported.

(File photo: screenshot)

The lawsuit was filed earlier this month as Joseph, 15, and Joelle, 17, both Seventh-day Adventists, claimed the WIAA would not grant a religious accommodation last season as the state championship schedule conflicted with their observation of Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

With most state tennis tournaments wrapping up on Saturdays, the siblings who play for William F. West High School were unable to make the commitment required by WIAA’s rules which allowed no exception for sincerely-held religious beliefs.

“For the Chung family, keeping the Sabbath holy is a serious commitment,” Becket, the law firm representing the Chungs, wrote in the complaint.

(Image: screenshot)

That religious observance kept Joelle from her final state tennis postseason competition as she was disqualified.

“She was disappointed that she couldn’t help the team but she shouldn’t have to choose between religion and playing tennis,” Paul Chung, her father, told “The Ingraham Angle” earlier this month.

(Video: Fox News)

WIAA’s previous rules required that athletes in competition commit to every level of the tournament or face penalties, such as being barred from playing at all.

But on Tuesday, the WIAA changed their rules to allow an exception for religious observances by players as one of the reasons, along with injury or illness, to pull out of postseason competition.

The Chungs’ attorney called the decision a “partial victory” in a statement Tuesday, according to the The Seattle Times.

“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,” Joe Davis, Becket counsel and attorney for the Chungs, said in the statement.

He told Fox News on Friday that “it’s an important win for religious student-athletes in Washington and sets a favorable precedent nationwide.”

“It’s common sense that Sabbath observers shouldn’t be excluded from any postseason sports competition at all just because of the hypothetical possibility of a schedule conflict somewhere down the line—and after the rule change, they won’t be,” he added.

Back in 2017, the WIAA was involved in another lawsuit that they settled after agreeing to move a state tournament to avoid conflicting with the observance of the Jewish Sabbath by athletes who attend Northwest Yeshiva on Mercer Island.

Frieda Powers

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