Judge Says Bowing Is OK in Judo
Jan. 11, 2002
SEATTLE (AP) _ Requiring judo contestants to bow to the mat before a picture of the founder of the Japanese martial art does not violate freedom of religion, a federal judge has ruled.
In a 13-page decision Thursday, U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik dissolved an injunction that allowed James and Leilani Akiyama, 17 and 14, and Jay Drangeid, 40, all of Bellevue, to compete in the United States since 1997 without observing the ritual.
They previously lost in three arbitration rulings in the United States, and a complaint they filed in Canada was rejected by the British Columbia Human Rights Commission in February.
Lasnik rejected their assertion that mandatory bowing violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964, writing that they failed to show an intent to discriminate on the basis of religion.
``Virtually any restriction or regulation imposed by a public accommodation could impinge upon a person's religious beliefs because such beliefs ... are of the individual adherent's own making,'' he wrote.
Bowing remains a requirement in international judo competition, a ``legitimate, nondiscriminatory justification'' for a similar requirement within the United States, the judge added.
``I'm very pleased,'' Jim Bregman, president of the U.S. Judo Association, said. ``It's clear the bow in judo is simply a respectful act, like a handshake in wrestling.''
Mark Fleming, a lawyer for the Akiyamas, and John Holm, their stepfather and operator of the U.S. Judo Training Center in Renton, said they might appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
``We have a half-dozen Muslim kids who want to compete in the state championships coming up Jan. 26, and they can't compete because of their religious beliefs,'' Holm said.
His wife, Mariko, a Buddhist, considers the bowing a Shinto ritual that her children should not be forced to observe.
Leilani Akiyama, who has won 15 national judo championships, and her brother also are varsity wrestlers at Newport High School in Bellevue.
Leilani has bowed twice since 1997, at competitions in Japan and Venezuela. Holm said Thursday he didn't know whether his stepchildren would begin bowing in U.S. events or stop competing.
``They'll have to make that decision themselves,'' he said.
He added that he didn't immediately tell them about the ruling for fear it might affect their performance in a wrestling meet Thursday night.