U.S. Soccer Silent on Whether Religious Players Can Opt Out of Wearing LGBT Jerseys

On Friday morning, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), also known as U.S. Soccer, announced that the U.S. Men's National Team and the U.S. Women's National Team will wear rainbow-colored numbers during June in honor of LGBT pride month. But the federation did not say whether or not religious players would be able to opt out of wearing these rainbow numbers during games.

"To celebrate LGBTQ Pride month, the USMNT and USWNT will wear pride-inspired rainbow numbers," the federation announced in a tweet Friday morning.

"In recognition of LGBTQ Pride month in June, U.S. Soccer will activate a number initiatives [sic] in partnership with the You Can Play Project," the federation announced in a further statement on Friday. The You Can Play Project is an LGBT advocacy organization focused on sports.

"As the highlight, the U.S. Men's and Women's National Teams will wear pride-inspired rainbow numbers during the June friendlies," the statement continued. "The MNT will debut the look for the World Cup Qualifying tune-up against Venezuela on June 3 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The WNT will wear the kits in away friendlies against Sweden on June 8, and Norway three days later."

The federation also noted that "as a long-time supporter of the LGBTQ community, in 2016 U.S. Soccer promoted the hashtag #OneNation in support of the victims of the Pulse Night Club shooting. U.S. MNT captain Michael Bradley wore a special rainbow armband with the One Nation inscription, and auctioned off the armband and his jersey."

It is one thing to support a hashtag, especially honoring the victims of the Pulse Night Club shooting. This is admirable, and it seems entirely voluntary for Bradley to have worn the armband.

But when PJ Media reached out to U.S. Soccer for a comment asking whether or not socially conservative players — those opposed to the LGBT message, most likely for religious reasons — would be able to opt out of wearing these jerseys, the federation did not respond.

It may be that the U.S. Men's and Women's teams have already discussed this amongst themselves and all agreed to wear the jerseys and support the LGBT message. If so, more power to them. But if some of the players hold socially conservative attitudes about sexual issues, they might be uncomfortable promoting this message in such a public way.

Many Christians — evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox — and Muslims consider homosexual practice to be a sin and transgender identity to be harmful, and while they might welcome equal rights and would oppose violence or discrimination against LGBT people, they might draw the line at promoting homosexuality and transgenderism.

As of now, it is unclear whether or not U.S. Soccer will allow any conservative Christian or Muslim players to opt out of promoting the LGBT message, which may be popular but is not universally supported in American society.

At a time when many Americans oppose the religious freedom of businesses to opt out of serving gay weddings, it is important for sports organizations like U.S. Soccer to honor the religious convictions of players. Especially given cases like the Oregon bakers who were forced out of business after refusing to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding, or the Washington florist fined for refusing to serve a gay wedding, religious freedom has become an important issue.

Indeed, religious freedom — especially when it comes to opting out of promoting LGBT messages like gay weddings — has become a serious issue nationwide. In Massachusetts, a state guidance dictated how churches should behave on these issues. In Ohio, an LGBT group announced its intentions to force churches to host gay weddings on their property.

Individuals and churches should have the right to opt out of supporting messages they disagree with in public settings. This applies to churches being able to reject hosting gay weddings, to bakers and florists being able to turn down LGBT events, and to soccer players being able to refuse jerseys promoting an LGBT message. Students acknowledge that a Muslim singer should be able to reject a request to sing at Christmas, so why can't social conservatives opt out of these situations?

It is perfectly acceptable for U.S. Soccer to promote messages that the federation believes in. Americans may become annoyed at the politicization of sports, but U.S. Soccer is a free agency and has free speech. Its players should have the same freedom — in this case, to opt out of promoting speech they might disagree with.