Wis. swim team allowed to participate on Rosh Hashanah after FFRF intervenes

Middleton Cross Plains Area School District

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has successfully convinced the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District in Middleton, Wis. to allow the girls swim and dive team to participate in an invitational competition held during the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah.

A concerned district parent had informed the state/church watchdog that the Middleton High School Girls Swim and Dive team was not being allowed to compete in a significant invitational competition held at Waukesha High School on Sept. 16 because the date falls in the middle of Rosh Hashanah. According to FFRF’s understanding, the swim and dive team coach cited the district’s religious accommodations policy, Policy 323.2, which seemingly prevents district athletic teams from scheduling events during certain pre-selected religious holidays.

The state/church watchdog sent a letter requesting that the district consider revising the policy so that it could not be applied to prohibit entire athletic teams, including nonobservant students, from participating in events not scheduled by the district that happened to fall on one of the preselected religious holidays. FFRF’s complainant and their child do not celebrate Rosh Hashanah, but the district was effectively coercing the complainant’s child to observe the holiday by forbidding them and the entire swim team from participating in the invitational.

“While the district’s intentions in creating the policy were clearly to further its goals of multicultural diversity and inclusion, this application of the policy has the opposite effect,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Superintendent Dana Monogue.

FFRF argued that a basic principle of the First Amendment is that public schools may not show favoritism toward or coerce belief or participation in religion. When a public school district restricts participation in extracurricular activities for all students for the purpose of accommodating students that may observe certain religious holidays, it violates the Constitution. Furthermore, FFRF pointed out, the district’s policy favors three selected religions — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — by specifically seeking to schedule all district events around certain holidays involving only these three faiths. And the policy excluded and alienated those students who are a part of the 49 percent of Generation Z who are religiously unaffiliated.

Superintendent Monogue reached out to FFRF, informing that the policy would be changed in regard to religious holidays. The policy now states:

Before scheduling school, district, and conference events and activities, district staff should take into consideration the impact the schedule may have regarding conflicts with other district events, other secular and community events and religious events to determine if such events may significantly adversely affect student participation.

FFRF is pleased that the district has worked to create a more inclusive environment that doesn’t rob nonobservant students of valuable extracurricular opportunities.

“Everybody wins when school districts don’t force religious holidays on students in a way that interferes with their opportunities,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Secular or nonobservant students shouldn’t fear losing an important chance to compete and demonstrate their skills due to someone else’s beliefs.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members across the country, including more than 1,700 members in Wisconsin and its national headquarters in Dane County in the state. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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