Adventists given relief for Sabbath rest

rest on the sabbathPortland, Oregon's major daily newspaper The Oregonian picked up on an interesting religion/law/sports story involving an Adventist school, the Sabbath and organized sports. The story appears to be seen locally as small potatoes but has some compelling implications. A court issued an order requiring the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) to schedule basketball tournament games that accommodate the Sabbath traditions of the Portland Adventist Academy. The article notes that "many Adventists observe the Sabbath and do not participate in games" scheduled between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday.

I appreciate the reporter's effort to qualify the statement that "many Adventists observe the Sabbath." It is never good to assume that all Adventists believe the same thing, but the story could have included more detail on what this particular academy and its community believes and practices:

Jon Stride, the attorney for the Portland Adventist players, said Friday's decision means the OSAA will, if Portland Adventist's boys or girls team advances to one of the games in question, shift the starting time.

Stride said circuit court Judge Henry Kantor's decision indicated the Oregon School Activities Association did not provide "sufficient evidence that providing this accommodation" -- moving the game times -- "would cause undue hardship."

Tom Welter, executive director of the OSAA, could not be reached for comment Friday. Earlier, he said any decision about possibly appealing Friday's decision would rest with the association's executive board.

Portland Adventist in general has not participated in OSAA basketball tournaments in the face of what the suit called a requirement to swear to participate in every scheduled tournament game -- even those scheduled during the Saturday Sabbath.

The Sabbath is probably the most important characteristic of Seventh-day Adventists. This fact is probably a significant reason the judge ruled the way he did. The Sabbath tradition is one of the church's 28 fundamental beliefs and derives its moral obligation out of the Ten Commandments. Participation in any form of organized sports is out of the question for adherents of this faith, which creates a problem in a society where many high school athletics involve Saturdays full of basketball and other sporting events.

The story also misses out on explaining the significant legal implications of this order. Since it is a preliminary injunction, the legal consequences are not yet final. However, this judge is signaling that other religious organizations with similar scheduling conflicts based on their core religious beliefs might also find a friendly gavel in his courtroom.

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