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Opinion | Oakwood Adventist Academy basketball is a real First Amendment case

I believe in the First Amendment – and in a society that seeks to accommodate those of all faiths and no faith.

A basketball court at Oakwood Adventist Academy. (VIA TWITTER)

It’s not often that sports and politics collide. But that happened last week, when the Oakwood Adventist Academy (OAA) varsity basketball team forfeited a game that could have put them in competition for the state championship.

The decision by OAA, precipitated by an Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) ruling, drew the attention of Gov. Kay Ivey. And the governor has sided with the OAA basketball team – not the association.

OAA, based in Huntsville, is affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a Christian denomination I know something about because I’ve been an active member since I was 7. We SDAs are known for a few things that fall outside of mainstream Christian doctrines and practices.

For example, we are taught not to eat pork, shrimp and other animal foods described in the Old Testament of the Bible as “unclean.” Our doctrines also teach against drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes.

But most notably, we go to church on Saturdays, honoring what many call the Jewish Sabbath as a weekly holy day – meaning sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  

Historically, for most SDAs, that has meant no secular activities during those 24 hours. No work, except for those who work for the church or are first responders (medical professionals, police officers, fire fighters, etc.). No play, meaning no secular music concerts, movies, television shows, and other activities that can be indulged in during the other six days.

No play also includes no competitive sports.

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Notice the qualifiers I used: historically and most. Some SDAs deviate, based on preference or principle. But most still adhere to the basic idea of Sabbath-keeping.

So when the OAA basketball team learned its game was scheduled for this past Saturday at 4:30 p.m. – before sundown – the team decided to put its faith over a chance to be one of Alabama’s best high school teams. That got Ivey’s attention – especially, perhaps, because there was another option.

Not for the OAA team. But for the AHSAA.

The AHSAA could have allowed the team and its opponent to swap schedules with the teams slotted for 7:30 p.m. According to my OAA sources, the affected teams were willing to do just that. So why wasn’t the AHSAA? Its representatives won’t say.

Apparently, Gov. Ivey was wondering the same thing. So she wrote the AHSAA a letter.

“I hope you’ll understand why I was most disturbed to read about Oakwood’s alleged treatment at the AHSAA’s basketball tournament,” the governor wrote. “This episode raises some very pressing questions, not only for me but for public officials and citizens across our great State.”

Among other things, Ivey asked who at the AHSAA was responsible for this decision and if it violated any AHSAA policy. She also wants to know this circumstance can be prevented from happening again.

The governor seems to want accountability and change. We’ll see if she gets what she wants.

Ivey also wrote a letter to the OAA team, expressing her support and inviting them to meet with her at the state capitol. My cynical side says that Ivey wants a photo op with young black men affiliated with a historically black institution (Oakwood University, my alma mater).

But I also recognized that this may be about more than politics for Ivey. Of the 2,930 voters who cast a ballot at the Oakwood University precinct in 2020, 83 percent voted a straight Democratic ticket. President Biden beat Donald Trump by 67 percent. Former Democratic Senator Doug Jones beat current Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville by 64 percent.

No matter how magnanimous and supportive Ivey is of the OAA team, she’s not likely to get votes from that precinct or most black voters. In fact, I suspect most will respond to her efforts the way she does to Biden in one of her current commercials: “Bless her heart.” And then they will vote for Democrats anyway.

Either way, whether because of politics or principle, I like what Ivey has done. Not because I’m an SDA, but because I believe in the First Amendment – and in a society that seeks to accommodate those of all faiths and no faith.

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Gov. Ivey and I don’t agree on most things. But it appears we do agree on this.

Written By

David Person is a media personality and consultant who has been working in the Huntsville market since 1986 as a talk show host, columnist, and director/producer. David co-hosts the podcast Alabama Politics This Week.

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