Last week, it was reported by Todd Starnes of FoxNews.com that a high school track team in Columbus, Texas, “was disqualified from competing in the state championships because one of the runners made a gesture thanking God after he crossed the finish line.”
“Derrick Hayes, the anchor of the Columbus High School 4×100 relay team 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," Starnes wrote.
According to the Texas Freedom Network, conservative Christian groups such as the Liberty Institute and Liberty Counsel both jumped behind Hayes, as did Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Texas Governor Rick Perry even wrote a letter to the University Interscholastic League of Texas demanding an investigation, reported The Texas Tribune.
“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,” wrote Gov. Perry.
However, this story was quickly debunked by Hayes, his family and the University Interscholastic League of Texas.
The track team was actually disqualified because of Hayes' statements to a track official who reminded the high school athlete that the rules do not allow an excessive act of celebration.
“At no point during the discussions surrounding the disqualification at the meet was the issue of religious expression raised by any parties,” an UIL press release read.
“In looking back at the conclusion of the 4x100 race, we realize that Derrick could have handled the win in a different manner,” parents KC and Stacey Hayes stated in the UIL press release. “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.”
“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 4x100 relay were strictly the thrill of victory. With this being said, I do not feel my religious rights or freedoms were violated,” Hayes said in the UIL press release.