Tennessee high school athletes no longer need to seek permission to exercise their religious freedom

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Najah Aqeel

Najah Aqeel

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A ninth-grade Nashville volleyball player is now a catalyst for change.

It follows a recent incident in Nashville, involving a freshman volleyball player at Valor Academy College Prep. Najah Aqeel, 14, was disqualified from a match with Brentwood Academy for wearing a hijab.

According to current rules set by the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS), players must have authorization from their state athletic association in order to wear a hijab for religious reasons. In late September, Valor submitted an official request to TSSAA proposing an amendment to the association’s bylaws.

On Thursday, TSSAA’s Legislative Council voted unanimously to amend its bylaws to allow for religious headwear without seeking permission.

Aqueel was thrilled when she heard the news early Thursday and said she’s humbled.

“I just hope if anybody has gone through this, or anything like it, that they now know they won’t have to go through it again and feel comfortable in their own skin,” Aqeel said.

Her mother, Aliya, says she’s very proud of her daughter for never giving up and pushing for change, adding now, it’s time to make some changes at the national level.

In response to the news, Cameron Hill, Valor’s Athletic Director, said:

“This is huge for the schools in Tennessee and we hope this can lead to other state associations to adopt similar rules as well. TSSAA member schools really made a statement by overwhelmingly favoring this change and we are appreciative of the TSSAA for being open to the bylaw change. This is truly what education-based athletics is all about.”

In addition, the Assistant Executive Director for TSSAA released the following statement to News 2 Thursday:

“I think this demonstrates how the organization’s process works in regards to the bylaws the member schools abide by.  It is an organization of member schools.  Those member schools, through their legislative process, write the rules of the association which all members follow.  A school saw a need for a change and through the legislative process, they submitted a proposal for the change, and the Legislative Council, which is school administrators elected by their peers, voted to enact the proposal.”

MATTHEW GILLESPIE, ASSISTANT EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

The adjustment to the rule will go into effect immediately statewide for all TSSAA-sponsored sports.

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