Utah bill allowing religious clothing, modesty standards in athletic uniforms heads to governor’s desk

A bipartisan bill allowing Utah student-athletes to wear headcovers as part of their uniforms is headed to Gov. Spencer Cox for his signature, St. George, Utah, Feb. 22, 2023 | Stock image | Photo by Prostock-Studio/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A bill that would ensure Utah athletes the right to wear religious clothing while participating in high school sporting events passed through the Legislature on Wednesday and is headed to Gov. Spencer Cox’s desk for signature into law.

Rep. Candice Pierucci, a Republican from Salt Lake County District 49, sponsored the protecting student religious and moral beliefs regarding athletic uniform requirements bill, officially designated HB 163 in the 2023 Utah Legislature.  

“The purpose of this bill is to ensure that students are able to participate in athletics while still practicing their religion,” Pierucci told St. George News.

She went on to say that the genesis of the bill came about 18 months ago when she was contacted by members of the Muslim Civic League, who asked her to look into stories of high school athletes being told they cannot wear the traditional hijab during athletic events.

“Additional people came forward,” Pierucci said. “Members of the Sikh community told me they were not allowed to wear turbans while playing a sport. It has a really negative impact on many students from these communities and leads them to not participate in general.”

Stock image | Photo by Prostock-Studio/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

The bill “provides that certain associations and educational organizations may not prohibit a student athlete from wearing religious clothing” while participating in an athletic activity.

The bill allows athletes to wear religious clothing under their uniforms for religious or modesty reasons. Further, Pierucci said, athletic clubs that play at school facilities would be required to follow the requirements.  

Among the many speaking in favor of the bill when it was presented to the House committee were Luna Banuri, executive director for the Utah Muslim Civic League, and David Spatafore, from the Utah High School Activities Association.

Spatafore pointed out that UHSAA follows a national uniform code already.

“These pretty much are our rules,” he said about the bill. “We are fully on board.”

A handful of high school student-athletes spoke in favor of the bill at the committee hearing as well.

“The students I spoke to were really embarrassed, they feel like it’s their fault,” Pierucci said. “This bill says it’s not on you, you should be able to wear religious headwear.”

Support for the bill so far has been bipartisan and unanimous, she noted.

“Everyone can understand this,” Pierucci said. “Students should never be forced to choose between living their religious standards or participating in athletics.”

Republican Sen. Kirk Cullimore, from District 19 in Salt Lake County, was the floor sponsor of the bill.   

In his summation before the Senate on Wednesday, he noted that HB 163 protects students’ religious freedoms in two key ways.

“One, it requires K-12 entities to allow students to wear religious headwear or clothing while participating in athletic activities,” Cullimore said. “And then two, it also empowers students to make accommodations to the uniform for personal standards of modesty.”

“I appreciate the support for this bill,” Cullimore added. “We had a resolution last year and the resolution passed and it was well supported. Unfortunately, we had a couple incidents in some of our public education institutions that necessitated the bill at this point.”

The roll call vote in the Senate for HB 163 was 23 yea, zero nay with six absent.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2023 Utah Legislature here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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