In 1998, Christian Heritage Academy was denied membership to the Oklahoma Secondary School Athletic Association because of a policy it held permitting them to deny membership on a whim. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
It’s fair to say that the State of Oklahoma takes high schools sports pretty seriously. The Oklahoma Secondary School Athletic Association, or OSSAA, regulates high school sports. Public schools are admitted freely, but private schools must apply for membership.
In 1998, Christian Heritage Academy, known widely for its 8-man football team, applied to be a member of OSSAA, but were denied. They applied again in 1999, but the majority of members rejected them a second time. That was enough for them and the school filed a lawsuit in 2003 alleging that they had been denied the equal protection of the law and deprived of their First Amendment freedoms.
The court concluded that OSSAA’s rules were discriminatory. By stating that a majority of members could simply reject religious schools over secular schools for any reason or none at all, the court found there was no legitimate purpose served. OSSAA members could, the court noted, reject applications for membership “for any reason, including dislike or distrust.”
Of course, the court was willing to allow OSSAA to chart its own membership, but it had to be fair. Creating a system that allowed ample room for members to reject religious school just because they did not like them was not enough.
The court’s point is clear: the First Amendment requires precision. When the state acts without precision, rights can be quickly abused.