Ohio Senate passes bill to protect right of student athletes to wear religious clothing after student disqualified for racing with hijab

by | Jun 11, 2021

The Ohio state senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 181 this week. The bill bans individual schools and the state Athletic Association from restricting an athlete’s right to wear religious clothing during competition. The legislation appears to be a response to the experience of Noor Alexandria Abukaram, who in 2019 was stripped of a personal record and disqualified from a 5K race for wearing a hijab without first obtaining a waiver.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports:

Ohio High School Athletic Association rules required athletes to obtain a waiver to wear clothing for religious practices and her coach hadn’t obtained a waiver. 

“Cross country was a means for me to leave my troubles behind, but this felt like the complete opposite,” she told lawmakers in May. “Full of emotions, I wanted to hide away in my room and let the time pass.”

Abukaram… started Let Noor Run to raise awareness of religious discrimination in sports. OHSAA changed its rules to eliminate the need for a waiver.

Despite the rules change, legislation is an important means of ensuring that the association cannot change the rule back or that individual school districts cannot implement their own local restrictions. Among other things, the bill would create a right for parents and students to sue if prevented from wearing religious clothing.

Senate Bill 181 now moves to the state house for consideration.

You can visit Abukaram’s site, Let Noor Run, here.

Meanwhile, in Canton, Ohio, a different drama is unfolding after a staff of high school football coaches were fired for allegedly forcing a player – who, as a Hebrew Israelite, does not consume pork – to eat a pepperoni pizza in front of his teammates and coaches as punishment for missing an optional team practice.

Setting aside the question of why there is punishment at all for missing an optional practice (which is confusing enough), this form of religion-based humiliation is outrageous if true. Students should not be forced to choose unnecessarily between participating fully in athletics and remaining true to their religious convictions.