FOLLOW US  Click to go to Facebook.  Click to go to Twitter.  Click to go to YouTube.   TEXT SIZE Click to make text small. Click for medium-sized text. Click to make text large.  

Find Out More

Who We Are

Find the Latest News on our homepage

Learn more, Religious Liberty at Home 

Learn more, International Religious Freedom

Watch current Videos on Religious Liberty

Pray for Religious Liberty at home and abroad

Subscribe to the monthly e-newsletter, Free to Serve


Reply STOP to quit service
Message & Data Rates May Apply


Call to Prayer for Life,
Marriage & Religious Liberty


Call to Prayer English logo-montage
Join the Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage & Religious Liberty and receive a new prayer intention each week by email, text message or Facebook.

Catholic Teaching on the Environment Prayer Companion for Eucharistic Adoration Book Abbey Psalms Book Directory for Catechism Preorder

God's Servant First: Sports and Religious Freedom - Challenges and Opportunities Today


by Jennifer Bryson


May 29, 2019

An important contribution of sports to culture is providing a shared civic space in which we can come together with all our differences and disagreements and still agree to play a game together. This is wonderful. But today, efforts to roll back religious freedom threaten to bring exclusion and division even into the field of sports.

Some of the most direct ways religious freedom questions arise in sports include players wearing religious garb with uniforms, games played on holy days and days of fasting, and use of the body for prayer during games (sign of the cross, kneeling, etc.).

Today we are also seeing controversial political movements conflict with religious precepts in sports. For example, some teams now try to require players to wear political symbols, such as the LGBT rainbow, on the team uniform. But what happens when a player objects, with a conviction that wearing such a symbol would violate his or her conscience? This happened to a Catholic Croatian soccer player in Germany and to an Evangelical Christian American in the U.S.

Another issue is that the central role of the body in sports puts the controversy over transgenderism front and center. For Catholics involved with sports, with an understanding of the human body rooted in the deepest realms of our theology, debates around transgenderism will bring many new challenges but also an opportunity.

As for the challenges, it remains to be seen what will happen when local, state, or even national legislators pass laws trying to force schools, including private religious schools, to allow a male child who says, “I identify as a girl” to compete on a girls’ team, use the girls’ locker room, and put girls at physical risk due to having a larger, stronger male involved in play.

As for new opportunities, the embodied nature of sports offers us an opportunity to proclaim the reality of the human body, male and female. Doing so is an act of respect for God our Creator, the One who made us male and female. As Pope Benedict XVI explained in a 2007 speech to the Austrian National Ski Team, “sports must be rooted in a holistic view of the human person…”

As the politics of the sexual revolution now extend into sports, religious freedom matters not only for the protection of girls’ sports at Catholic schools, but also for protecting the voice of Catholics to bear witness to the theology of the body, to reality itself.

Jennifer S. Bryson, Ph.D. is the founder of Let All Play, a sports and religious freedom advocacy project. She is author of the 2019 report, “Let All Play: Yes to Soccer, No to Politics.”


By accepting this message, you will be leaving the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This link is provided solely for the user's convenience. By providing this link, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops assumes no responsibility for, nor does it necessarily endorse, the website, its content, or sponsoring organizations.

cancel  continue