Keep your eye on a decision handed down recently by the Oregon Court of Appeals. It could lay the groundwork for a test before the highest court in the land.
The issue is whether the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) discriminated against the Portland Adventist Academy boys basketball team last March when it barred the team from participating in the state 2A tournament in Pendleton.
The team was not permitted to participate in the tournament because it would not agree to play from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, which is when Adventists observe Sabbath. OSAA rules say that in order to participate in the tournament teams must agree to play all scheduled games.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of the Portland Adventist players, alleging that OSAA failed to accommodate their religious beliefs. The Court of Appeals agreed, saying that requiring a person to choose between a religious obligation and a school activity amounts to illegal discrimination.
The appeals court ruling is significant because it could change the way that school activities associations across the country schedule athletics and other extracurricular events.
Regardless of who wins, this case ought to inspire some thoughtful discussion along the way. You have to admire the Portland Adventist players for sacrificing their shot at the state title because they felt it was more important to stand up their religious beliefs. It may be that the best team didn't win last spring, which is an affront to most Americans' sense of fair play.
On the other hand, there are rules to be followed, and in the case of OSAA members, everybody knows them going in. If the courts mandate that every school activities association in the country accommodate every religious belief, scheduling may become so tenuous that extracurricular activities will be perceived as more trouble than they're worth. That would be a terrible tragedy because these activities are the heart and soul of many communities.
As far as religion is concerned it appears the courts are having a devil of a time choosing the right course. Certainly they are sending schools mixed messages. In this case, the Oregon Court of Appeals seems to be saying that religion has a place in the schools. Not long ago the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco sent an entirely different message by declaring the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance an unconstitutional breach of separation of church and state.
If the courts can't speak with one voice on this issue, how in the world are school officials to decide. We hope at some point common sense will prevail. R.S.