A statement released by Georgia Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle alleging discrimination against Christian schools in athletics is drawing attention as well as a response from the state’s governing body on high school sports.
“… [A]lmost every Georgian helps pay for [public high school facilities] and enabling access helps leverage the value of our hard-earned tax dollars,” said Cagle in the statement sent to the media. “When we buy gas, shop for clothes and pay property taxes, we all contribute significant funds to public education. And, we all pay these costs regardless of whether or not we have children enrolled in our public school system …
“It is particularly hard for me to understand why education related organizations would even consider adopting discriminatory policies that hinder broad community access to public school facilities and programs.”
Cagle went on to cite three instances of alleged discrimination against Christian athletes and schools. The first featured a cross country runner last fall who was disqualified after it was determined the headband he was wearing didn’t meet criteria for being “unadorned”. In previous races “Isaiah 40:31” had been written on the headband but at the state championship last fall West Forsyth High’s John Green and his coach were instructed it violated the rules. The headband was turned inside-out, but a referee at the end of the race determined it was still in violation.
“Adding insult to injury,” continued Cagle’s statement. “GHSA recently banned dozens of Christian schools from playing competitive sports with their public and larger private school counterparts. To anyone observing from the outside, there’s simply no good reason why two schools who equally want to compete with one another should be barred by a third party from playing sports.
“Making matters worse, GHSA issued its denial in a curt letter, giving minimal explanation to these Christian schools, essentially saying ‘we don’t want to play sports with you.’ Bear in mind this ‘association’ is private in name only: much of its funding tied to your tax dollars and public education, giving it control over millions of dollars in public investment in athletic facilities that ought to be available for the benefit of our communities.”
Discrimination not the situation, says GHSA spokesman
In an email to The Index, Georgia High School Association media director Steve Figueroa said that charges of discrimination had no basis in religion, but partnership with organizations.
Since 1928, the GHSA has been affiliated with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), he explained. Member schools of the GHSA are not allowed to play schools not belonging to an organization that is a member or associate member of the NFHS.
“This restriction has NOTHING whatsoever to do with Christian or non-Christian,” wrote Figueroa. “It is about eligibility requirements, insurance coverage, age restrictions and legal issues like that. Some of these organizations allow 8th graders to play on their member schools’ varsity teams, which we do not; some allow home-schooled students to play on their teams, which we do not; some have age maximums or grade requirements for students that are different from ours.”
Any school is eligible to join the GHSA, he added. Christian schools in the GHSA associated with Georgia Baptist churches include Eagles Landing Christian Academy in McDonough, Hebron Christian Academy in Dacula, and Prince Avenue Christian School in Athens.
Figueroa called Green’s disqualification “unfortunate” but added Green had been warned twice that the headband was against NFHS rules. He also addressed a controversy Cagle’s letter could be alluding to: an attempt by the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association to play GHSA schools.
“The GHSA actually supported the GICAA’s attempt to become affiliated with the NFHS last year, but they were denied. We are still working to have this league accepted and to grant them the ability to play our schools, which we would NOT oppose. But it takes time to change rules,” he said.