A school in Arkansas is modifying crosses on their football helmets after a local attorney complained they violated the First Amendment.
The Arkansas State University (ASU) football team affixed crosses on the back of their helmets with the initials of former player Markel Owens and former equipment manager Barry Weyer–until Louis Nisenbaum, an attorney from Jonesboro, Arkansas, wrote an email to ASU Counsel Lucinda McDaniel citing that he saw the team sporting the crosses.
“That is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause as a state endorsement of the Christian religion…Please advise whether you agree and whether ASU will continue this practice.”
McDaniel wrote an email Monday to ASU Athletic Director Terry Mohajir recommending that the crosses be cut off at the bottom so they resemble a plus sign (+), even though she found no cases that addressed crosses on football helmets.
Owens was killed in January in a home invasion, while Weyer died in a June car accident; both of them were Christians. Mohajir supported the students wearing the crosses, according to Todd Starnes of Fox News.
“I support our students’ expression of their faith…I am 100 percent behind our students and coaches.”
However, Mohajir said in a statement Wednesday that the team will be altering the crosses:
“After consulting with University counsel, we have been advised to either modify the decal or remove it completely. Thus, in order to ensure that we are in full compliance with Constitutional law, we will be modifying the decal to still honor the two individuals who are no longer with us.”
Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker wrote a letter to Mohajir and ASU Chancellor Dr. Tim Hudson thanking them “for making the correct decision to remove Latin cross[es] with the Red Wolves’ football helmets.”
“The crosses appeared to confer State’s endorsement of religion, specifically Christianity…The inclusion of the Latin cross on the helmets also excludes the 19 percent of the American population that is nonreligious. Not only are 1 in 5 Americans nonreligious, younger Americans are the least religious population in the country; 1 in 3 citizens aged 18-29 are not religious.”
Gaylor and Barker offered alternative suggestions as to how the ASU football team might be able to grieve.
“Many teams around the country honor former teammates by putting that player’s number on their helmets or jerseys, or by wearing a black armband. Either of those options, or another symbolic gesture free from religion imagery, would be appropriate.”
Mohajir was not impressed with FFRF’s alternatives, according to Starnes. “I don’t even kinda-sorta care about any organization that tells our students how to grieve.”
“Everybody grieves differently. I don’t think anybody has the right to tell our students how to memorialize their colleagues, their classmates or any loved ones they have.”
Hiram Sasser, an attorney with The Liberty Institute, told Starnes he would be more than honored to offer representation to the ASU football team, accusing the university of breaking the law.
“[ASU] and others want football players to be positive role models in the community, but as soon as the players promote a positive message honoring their former teammates – the university discriminates against them in a blatant violation of the Constitution.”
H/T The Blaze
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Photo: Todd Starnes/Arkansas State