High school runner disqualified for expressing religious freedom?

On November 7th, at the Georgia 5A cross country state championship, third place winner John Green was stripped of his victory just moments after crossing the finish line. The reason? A trumped-up violation of the uniform code.

The West Forsyth High School runner was reportedly disqualified because of a white headband embroidered with a Bible verse he wore for inspiration.

The verse in question was Isaiah 40:30-31:

“Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

That same headband and verse, particularly inspirational for a cross country athlete, was a constant companion to Green during the 2015 season leading up to the state championship. He wore it at regional and sectional meets, and was never told to take it off. Why would he? There is no rule or regulation in Georgia banning runners from wearing headbands.

According to Fox News columnist Todd Starnes, about ten minutes before the race, an official inspected the team and gave them a green light. However, a few minutes later another race official stopped John and asked to inspect his headband. Green was ordered to turn the headband inside out because there was writing on it --- and he complied.

Then, moments before the race was to begin, another official ordered John to completely remove the headband.

Easier said than done.

Green's headband was not only a source of inspiration, but also a practical necessity that kept his long hair out of his face. Conditions on the course that day were wet and muddy, and his coaches feared a safety problem if Green couldn't see clearly.

“We felt given the race course conditions, that John would not be able to run safely without something to keep his hair out of his face,” Assistant Coach Scott Griffith said.

However, race officials did not see things the same way. After finishing in third place, Green was stripped of his victory.

The Georgia High School Association denies that he was disqualified due to what was written on his headband. The GHSA said in a statement: “The fact that it was of a religious nature did not enter the decision whatsoever.”

Why then was the headband acceptable for regional and sectional meets, but not the state meet? If no rules against headbands exist then, logically, the reason for disqualification must fall to the words written on it.

If so, that presents a problem for the district, as freedom of speech and religion are protected on school campuses.

Georgia Congressman Douglas Collins (R) tweeted: “Religious expression being squashed right here in the Ninth District. This is outrageous.”

Despite the disqualification, Green was named to the Atlanta Track Club's 2015 All-Metro High School Cross Country Team.

 

Featured Image: Forsyth News

Sources: Fox News/Todd Starnes and NPR

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