After sixteen year-old student Je’Nan Hayes was banned from competing in her varsity basketball team’s championship game for wearing a hijab, racial justice groups, civil rights organizations, and community members demanded an immediate change to the rules. On March 27, MCCRC, joined with Color of Change, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), , and members of Je’Nan’s family to deliver over 40,000 petitions to the National Federation of State High School Associations demanding an end to the Hijab ban.
“In a country built on the principles of religious freedom, it’s outrageous that there’s a rule that singles out Muslim women and girls,” said Brandi Collins, Campaign Director of Economic, Environmental & Media Justice Departments at Color Of Change. “There isn’t a shred of evidence that this rule enforces safety and competitive fairness, instead it functions to rob individuals of their basic rights and dignity. At a time when hate crimes have risen to a level not seen since 9/11, we simply cannot normalize this kind of anti-Muslim bigotry in our schools.”
Je’Nan Hayes wore a hijab for each game of the Watkins Mill High School varsity basketball season. But she was prevented from playing in the regional final on March 3 due to a rule from the National Federation of State High School Associations that states that in order to play with a hijab, students must have a signed waiver from the state. Administrators from Prince George’s County and the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association say they disagree with the rule because hijabs have no bearing on the game and there is no reason for the ban.
“I just want to be an advocate for boys or girls, anybody who is trying out for a sport and has a religion and they feel like their faith can interfere with the way they play sports,” said Je’Nan Hayes. “It shouldn’t be that way. And because of rules like these, I feel like it makes people scared or turn away from sports, and I don’t want that to happen to anybody else in the future.”
“No athlete should ever be forced to choose between their ability to compete or their religious beliefs,” said CAIR Spokeswoman Zainab Chaudry. “Sports have long brought Americans of diverse faiths and backgrounds together. CAIR is appalled that Je’Nan was barred from participating in the regional finals game with the rest of her team because of her hijab. But we are proud of her for speaking out about her experience, and we are strongly committed to making sure this never happens again.”
“Our hearts break for Je’Nan, but we are inspired to see our community, and people around the country, stand with Je’Nan and join the fight for her First Amendment rights,” said Sue Udry, one of the founders of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition. “MCCRC will fight hard to protect our students from institutional Islamophobia and racism. The grossly unjust rule against hijabs for basketball players must be rescinded.”
“I’m proud of Je’Nan’s tenacity to advocate for change not only for her state but also nationally, if not globally,” said Carlitta Foster-Hayes, Je’Nan’s mother.