Muslim community members stood alongside Muslim sophomore Nasihah Thompson-King Friday to call on the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association to change its policy that requires Muslim students to request permission to alter athletic uniforms for religious reasons.
The firestorm over a policy requiring student-athletes to file for a waivers to wear religious garments during school sports continues to grow.
School and elected officials as well as community members stood alongside sophomore Nasihah Thompson-King Friday to call on the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association to change its policy that requires students to request permission to alter athletic uniforms for religious reasons.
“Change is coming and it’s coming rapidly,” Thompson-King said at a press conference at Mastery Charter School Shoemaker Campus in West Philadelphia.
Last week during a high school basketball game, a PIAA referee barred Thompson-King from taking the court while wearing her hijab, which the 16-year-old wears as part of her Islamic faith, because she did not have an approved waiver from the state agency.
Thompson-King declined to remove the headscarf and remained on the bench.
Left wing State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown (D-190) said requiring religious waivers for students to play in religious garments was a tragedy. “Whatever your religious background is, you should not have to ask for a waiver to be able to worship in the way that you worship,” Brown said. “Some people worship on Sunday, some people worship on Saturday, some people worship everyday, and sometimes their attire reflects the way that they worship.”
Another Left Wing State Sen. Sharif Street (D-3) said he will explore legislative remedies in Harrisburg to mandate the PIAA to alter its policy unless the agency acts. He characterized the PIAA as placing “undue burdens” on religious communities. “This is plan wrong,” he said.
Among those also at the press conference held inside a classroom at the school was Thompson-King’s mother, Fatima Thompson, and aunt, Salima Susswell; Shoemaker Principal Sharif El-Mekki; and members of the community organization Muslims 4 Humanity.
In Thompson-King’s case, the coach of the team she plays for, Mastery Charter North-Pickett Pumas, was advised about the waiver requirement by a referee during a previous game, in which Thompson-King was still allowed to play while wearing her hijab.
But days later, the same referee refused to let Thompson-King enter the game wearing her hijab without the waiver. At the press conference, Thompson-King’s mother said referees asking her daughter for a waiver in order to wear her hijab was “humiliating” and “intimidating.”
Due to the wide range of sports and the issues involving wearing additional garments for religious purposes, Mertz expected it would be difficult to do away with the religious waiver policy altogether.
As Mertz stated earlier this week, the waiver policy is in place both for safety reasons and to determine whether alterations constitute a competitive advantage.