HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) has voted to change its rules after a boy’s basketball team from Huntsville was forced to forfeit during the state playoffs in order to observe their religious practices.

The game was scheduled for a Saturday in February at 4:30 p.m. However, the Oakwood Adventist Academy varsity boys basketball team could not play due to their religion. The Adventist faith observes the Sabbath from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday. The game’s start time was before sunset on Saturday.

When Governor Ivey heard about the situation she wrote a letter to the Alabama High School Athletic Association demanding answers. She also wrote a letter to the team saying that she was proud of the team members and coaches for sticking to their beliefs and inviting them to the Capitol to meet with her.

In their meeting, team members told the governor they hoped that their experience would force a change so that this would never happen again.

That goal has now been achieved after the AHSAA adopted a new rule to accommodate religious requests.

After their vote, Governor Ivey issued a statement:

“Today’s vote by the Alabama High School Athletic Association is absolutely a win for religious liberty, and no doubt, is a testament to the Oakwood boys and their convictions. I hope that Alabamians – young and old – can look to these boys as an example. They stood strong in their faith and showed that good can come from a difficult situation. Here in Alabama, we will always stand up for religious freedom, and this rule change is certainly doing just that.”

– Governor Kay Ivey

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News 19 reached out to the AHSAA for comment on the change.

“The Alabama High School Athletic Association Central Board of Control today approved a new rule allowing schools to request a religious accommodation during championship play when certain conditions are met. Other state associations and the NCAA have adopted similar rules. This rule will go into effect with the 2023-2024 school year,” said AHSAA Assistant Director of Communications Ron Ingram in a statement.

The South Central Conference of Seventh-day Adventists filed a lawsuit against the AHSAA on behalf of Oakwood Adventist Academy in May. The AHSAA said they were hoping to resolve the situation without litigation. As of September 27, the lawsuit was stayed pending further order from the court.

“We applaud AHSAA for doing the right thing,” said Todd McFarland, associate general counsel for the General Conference for Seventh-day Adventists said after the announcement. “The new rule allows the Oakwood Mustangs to give their all both in their faith and in their sport.”  

Joseph Davis, counsel at Becket Law added, “We hope that other state athletic associations will follow AHSAA’s lead so that no school or student will ever be excluded from participating on account of their faith.”