An Ohio senator has introduced new legislation aimed at protecting the religious expression of athletes. The bill was inspired by an Ohio teen disqualified from a cross-country race for wearing a hijab without a required waiver.
In October, 16-year-old Noor Alexandria Abukaram was disqualified from competing in a district-level race because she wore a hijab. Abukaram says she’s worn a head scarf since 2016, but was told by officials she needed a waiver because it violated uniform rules.
State Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) said Wednesday that SB288 would prohibit school sports regulators from requiring advance permission for religious apparel, or otherwise restrict athletes from wearing it, unless it causes a “legitimate danger" to participants.
"If such a danger is identified, the administrator or official of the event or activity shall offer all reasonable accomodations to the participant wearing religious apparel," the bill reads.
Abukaram, who attends Sylvania Northview in Northwest Ohio, joined Gavarone at the Statehouse to support the bill.
Today, I welcomed Noor Abukaram & her family to the Statehouse. Noor was disqualified from a cross country race last year because she wore her hijab.
I asked her to help me introduce SB 288 to ensure that no one has to choose between playing a sport or their religious beliefs. pic.twitter.com/MKEHOSQF8k
— Senator Theresa Gavarone (@theresagavarone) February 26, 2020
"Freedom of religion is a fundamental right and civil liberty in this country," Gavarone said in a statement. "My hope is that through this legislation and Noor's story we will be able to ensure that no one, regardless of religious affiliation, has to choose between playing a sport or their religious beliefs."
According to the Associated Press, the Ohio High School Athletic Association has since changed its rules to let referees approve such head coverings without a formal waiver.