Christian Conservatives are desperate to find and publicize any and all possible instances of Christian oppression because, well, they can’t actually find them in the United States and their persecution complex replies upon it. Unfortunately, they usually end up with egg on their face instead.
Take, for instance, the case of Derrick Hayes, the anchor of the Columbus High School 4×100 relay team. According to FOX News’ Todd Starnes, Hayes “was disqualified from competing in the state championships because one of the runners made a gesture thanking God after he crossed the finish line.” He also wrote that the Texas student “had just crossed the finish line when he raised his finger to the sky, thanking the Lord for winning the race that would send them to the state finals.”
He based his article on claims made by Hayes’ father, K.C. Hayes, who claimed that his son was pointing to God and offering a prayer. Governor Rick Perry wrote a letter demanding that the University Interscholastic League investigate. Perry stated he would “not tolerate the suppression of religious freedom anywhere.”
Perry went on to say “It is unconscionable that a student athlete could be punished for an expression of religious faith or that an act of faith could disqualify an athlete in a UIL competition.”
He also demanded that the UIL “investigate this incident thoroughly and take whatever action is necessary to ensure protection of religious freedom and expression at UIL competitions.”
Liberty Institute and Liberty Counsel among others jumped on the story, as did Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott. Of course the problem wasn’t the finger that he raised. He wasn’t disqualified for that. In fact, he wasn’t disqualified for anything dealing with God or religion.
He was disqualified for how he behaved towards the referee.
According to the UIL, they “concluded the investigation and has found no evidence to suggest that the disqualification took place as a result of the student-athlete expressing religious beliefs. The basis for the disqualification was due to the student-athlete behaving disrespectfully, in the opinion of the local meet referee.”
Based on the UIL’s investigation, the student athlete raised his hand and gestured forward at the conclusion of the 4×100-meter relay. The meet official approached the student-athlete in an effort to warn him of a possible disqualification should that behavior continue. In the opinion of the official, the student reacted disrespectfully. Based on his reaction, the student-athlete was subsequently disqualified. Any decision to disqualify a student-athlete at any track meet must be upheld by the head meet referee. The meet official and the meet referee conferred, and the disqualification was upheld on-site. At no point during the discussions surrounding the disqualification at the meet was the issue of religious expression raised by any parties.
The UIL’s investigation also revealed that all coaches involved were notified prior to the regional meet that any gestures in violation of the National Federation of State High School Associations track and field rule against unsporting behavior would be grounds for disqualification. Coaches were instructed to discuss this with their student-athletes prior to all races.
To assist the UIL in its investigation, the student-athlete’s parents submitted a letter stating that their son’s religious freedoms were not violated. “In looking back at the conclusion of the 4×100 race, we realize that Derrick could have handled the win in a different manner,” KC and Stacey Hayes said in the letter. “It was not our intention to force the issue that our son’s religious freedom was violated. Nor do we feel that way now. After discussing this with our son, we have come to the conclusion that his religious rights were not violated.”
The student-athlete who was disqualified also submitted a letter during the investigation stating: “Although I am very thankful for all God has given me and blessed me with, on Saturday, April 27, 2013 at the Regional Track Meet in Kingsville, TX, my actions upon winning the 4×100 relay were strictly the thrill of victory. With this being said, I do not feel my religious rights or freedoms were violated.”