Parochial School Seeks Equal Protection from State Athletic Association
Batista, Paul J., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
Christian Heritage Academy v. Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association
U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit
483 F.3d 1025
April 9, 2007
In Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association v. Brentwood Academy (2007), the U.S. Supreme Court held that an anti-recruiting rule enforced by TSSAA did not infringe upon the parochial school's First Amendment free speech rights. Additionally, the Court ruled in an earlier opinion that such state associations act under color of state law, making them subject to constitutional limitations (Brentwood Academy vs. TSSAA, 2001). These opinions were profiled in the previous Law Review (JOPERD, November/December 2007).
While TSSAA won its case, another 2007 case involving a state athletic association resulted in a different verdict, favoring the school. In Christian Heritage Academy v. Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (2007), the Tenth Circuit Court was asked to apply similar constitutional doctrines to a dispute between the parties.
The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) is the official state association responsible for regulating inter-scholastic activities of member schools. (OSSAA, 2007, p. 1). The OSSAA had 471 member schools, including 10 private schools and two Indian schools, when this case was filed.
Christian Heritage Academy (Christian Heritage) is a parochial school, established in 1972 with the purpose of "assist[ing] the home and church in building a solid foundation in the life of each student" (Christian Heritage Academy, n.d.).
Facts of the Case
Christian Heritage is not a member of OSSAA; therefore, its teams cannot participate in OSSAA activities, including state-organized athletic playoffs and championships. Christian Heritage has applied for membership in OSSAA on two occasions, but has been denied admission both times. The requirements for nonpublic schools to be admitted as members of OSSAA are the focus of this case.
The OSSAA constitution governing membership in the association provides different application procedures for public and nonpublic schools. Membership in OSSAA is governed by Article III, Section 1, subsections (a) and (b) of the OSSAA constitution. Subsection (a) provides that membership "shall be open to public schools ... and other schools as approved by the members of the Association." Subsection (b) establishes the criteria for membership. Public schools are granted membership upon filing a resolution requesting membership, paying the required fees, and completing the necessary paperwork. Admission is automatic for public schools. Nonpublic schools must meet the same criteria, but before being admitted they must also be approved for membership by a majority vote of the existing member schools. Significantly, there are no standards or guidelines for voting members to follow when voting whether or not a nonpublic school should be admitted to membership.
In 1998, Christian Heritage filed an application and the necessary paperwork to become a member of OSSAA. Pursuant to the OSSAA constitution, a membership vote was held with 184 schools voting against the application, and 153 schools voting in favor. Christian Heritage was denied admission because its application did not garner majority approval. The executive secretary of the OSSAA acknowledged that the admission of nonpublic schools had become more controversial than it had been in the past. Due to the controversy, the OSSAA's Board of Directors created a committee to investigate member schools' concerns about nonpublic schools. The committee's special report found that many of the concerns about nonpublic schools were unfounded, and that many members were not willing to admit private schools into the association. (Christian Heritage, 2007).
With the committee's special report in hand, Christian Heritage filed another application for membership in 1999. …