by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read
Recently, Philadelphia Flyers hockey star Ivan Provorov chose not to participate in pregame warmups where players wore Pride-themed jerseys and wielded hockey sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape, citing his religious beliefs. He is a Russian Orthodox Christian.
“I respect everyone. I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion,” Provorov told reporters.
His decision and statements, however, did not sit well with sports media personalities. Toxic cancel culture quickly reared its ugly head, as it’s often the case when a pro athlete chooses to publicly live out his or her faith. (Recall, last summer a group of Tampa Bay Rays baseball players were lambasted for not wearing Pride symbols on their uniforms and caps).
Canadian sports commentator Sid Seixeiro said the NHL “needs to attack this,” calling for Provorov’s team to be fined “$1 million” over his “insulting” comments.
NHL Network senior reporter E.J. Hradek also criticized the NHL defender and suggested kicking him out of the country:
“Ivan Provorov can get on a plane any day he wants and go back to a place where he feels more comfortable, take less money and get on with his life that way if it’s that problematic for him.”
Despite some who responded harshly, it appears that Provorov will not be punished for staying true to his religious beliefs. The Flyers issued a statement reiterating the team’s stance on inclusivity, but not overtly voicing support or opposition to Provorov’s action. Flyer’s coach John Tortorella added:
“With Provy, he’s being true to himself and to his religion. This has to do with his belief and his religion. It’s one thing I respect about Provy: He’s always true to himself. That’s where we’re at with that.”
The NHL also made clear in a statement:
“Clubs decide whom to celebrate, when and how–with League counsel and support. Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.”
It’s certainly good news that Provorov isn’t going to have his contract terminated, or worse, be booted out of the country for exercising a fundamental constitutional right to religious liberty. Nonetheless, there’s no denying that radical Leftist ideology and its many followers are seeking to squash that freedom, and that’s why we have to look at this situation a bit deeper.
What’s unfolding with regard to Provorov can help us learn something very important about religious freedom in America. We can better understand this by looking back at what happened with Damar Hamlin a few weeks ago.
When Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest and went down on the field, we witnessed a tremendous public display of faith. Millions around the country turned to God and prayed, including major sports pundits like Dan Orlovsky who paused in the middle of a live TV broadcast to pray for the injured Buffalo Bills Safety.
In a culture that’s increasingly hostile to religion, it was somewhat surprising for many of us to see this strong turn toward prayer. This positive response was refreshing, and the power of prayer was demonstrated. It showed us America is still a nation that values the free exercise of religion.
With Provorov, there was also a public display of faith. He publicly chose not to participate or endorse an activity that would violate his religious beliefs. This is also an outward expression of one’s religious convictions. However, the response was very different.
Treating those two expressions of faith differently betrays what America is about. We’re a country that’s built on a promise of religious freedom for all. We celebrated and encouraged public prayers for Damar Hamlin. By the same token, our society should respect and uphold the rights of people like Provorov, who seek to live, work and conduct themselves in a manner consistent with their faith.
This is one of the core issues at stake in First Liberty’s Sweet Cakes by Melissa case, which is currently pending at the U.S. Supreme Court
Christian bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein faced bankruptcy after being hit with a $135,000 fine from the State of Oregon. Why? They chose to operate their business according to their faith and declined to create a custom cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding. The expression of their Christian convictions led to a gag order and extreme fine. Like Provorov, opponents of freedom tried to silence and punish them for not conforming to the cultural orthodoxy.
If the Kleins were to win their case, it could be a major step forward for countless Americans who face hostile treatment and the real threat of losing their business, their livelihood and careers because of their beliefs.
Religious liberty is much more than being able to hold beliefs in one’s mind, or even worshiping inside the walls of a church, synagogue or mosque. Of course, it includes your right to pray publicly and proclaim what you believe. But it goes beyond that, too. True religious liberty is also being able to be free to live according to that faith. In America, no one should be forced to use their art, their craft, or their words to send a message that betrays their deeply held beliefs.