Water Canyon High School wrestler John West chooses to wear shorts over his wrestling uniform because of his own standards of modesty.
“Whether or not you expose yourself, how much or how much you don’t, should be a personal choice,” said Taddy West, the boy’s mother.
“There are situations in which some people express those desires…People’s expectations and standards may differ, but in any situation it is your body that[students]feel comfortable with, It’s important to dress appropriately and feel comfortable.”
Utah legislators have introduced a bill banning schools from banning student-athletes from wearing clothing for religious or humble purposes while participating in sports.
HB163 is sponsored by Rep. Candice Pierucci of R-Herriman and is designed to give students a say in modest standards and religious attire when competing in athletics.
“I had more and more students reaching out to me of different faiths who had barriers and challenges trying to get into athletics,” Pierucci said.
Utah isn’t the only state considering or passing laws to protect people of faith. Illinois and Ohio have adjusted school sports rules to allow young athletes to wear faith-related attire during competition.
“We have determined that one of the major issues we want to address is ensuring that every child has the opportunity to participate in athletics,” said the Illinois Muslim Citizens Union advocacy and Policy director Maaria Mozaffar told the Religion News Service.
Lawmakers in Utah passed a resolution on the issue in 2022, motivated by the Norwegian handball team. The team was fined for allowing a woman to wear a uniform other than a bikini, sparking an ongoing conversation about her uniform sporting.
This resolution aims to address some of the issues surrounding religious and modest dress in sport and encourages schools and other youth movement groups to “revise their internal policies and ensure that all children participating in athletic activities are and allow young people to wear or change religious attire and hats. Their uniforms correspond to their personal values of religious beliefs and humility. ”
However, it did not mandate changes or lead to the results the legislators wanted.
HB163 is designed to give students of all disciplines a voice in the religious dress and modest dress standards they choose when competing.
The bill also states that schools must provide clothing if there are requirements in color, style, or material, so students don’t have to invest in expensive and hard-to-find clothing.
No clear rules for religious and modest dress
Regulations regarding sports uniforms currently vary by school and school district. The decision whether to allow modest or religious attire is left to various people, including referees and umpires, coaches, principals, and school boards.
Pierucci gave examples of student struggles involving religious dress and athletic competition.
In her school district, two boys played sports in high school for club teams, Pierucci said. According to Pierucci, before the young men played, the referee confronted the boys by saying, “Please take the towel off his head.” The turbaned boys tried to explain that it was an important part of their religion. The team’s coach, who was standing by the boys, abandoned the game, she said.
“I think we should be more sensitive to people who practice their religion,” Pierucci said. That’s why this bill is so important to me.”
“I commend these young men and young women for their willingness to put their faith into practice,” she said.
Pierucci said the concept of religious freedom should apply to all religions, not just the dominant religion in the region.
“More and more communities are stepping forward to support this (the bill), which has experienced discrimination, persecution, or at least a ban on wearing religious clothing and hats when trying to participate in sports. ‘ she said.
Religious community support
Pierucci worked with the Utah Muslim Citizens League on legislation.
She said the league was a major supporter of the bill. The Sikh and Jewish communities are also major contributors, she said, with members stepping forward to clarify their stories.
“As an organization that addresses the intersection of different religions, especially Muslim communities, we have looked to issues that pose challenges for children,” said Runa Banuri, executive director of the Utah Muslim Civic League. “Bullying is one of the biggest problems in our community.”
Banuri described the process of looking deeper into this issue and discussing ways to help children in Muslim communities feel a sense of belonging. As the league acknowledges, sports are an excellent way to not only develop individual coping strategies, but also instill a desire to belong in the school community.
“There are no Muslim women in college sports. These Muslim girls have no role models in track and field and are carving out their own path.
She said the current situation and challenges people must go through to participate in athletics with humility and religious standards are harmful.
“The idea is that you can’t have faith and civil rights together,” Banuri said.
“Sport is what creates equality across faiths, socioeconomics and everything else,” she said. “It should be a level playing field.”
Banuri explained that the children in her community are not looking for problems. When faced with a problem, they often “self-censor” and no longer want to participate in athletics.
“If we are to bring Utah together, we need to understand how diverse Utah is and become more inclusive,” Banuri said.
“All religions have standards of modesty, and I think this affects multiple communities,” she said. “I think it depends on your standards of modesty.”