A conservative Christian outfit that aims to promote religion in public life through legal action is demanding — supposedly in the name of an anonymous football player — that Arkansas State University restore a cross to players’ football helmets as part of a memorial tribute.
The crosses — but not the memorial tribute — were removed on advice of university counsel after questions were raised by the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
It is ironic that the Liberty Institute says the player fears retaliation if he identifies himself. The ASU athletic director has already said he, his coaches and players were unhappy about the decision. Who’s going to retaliate in this state, where the custom is to oppress the rights of minorities by forcing Christian prayer and other observances on the unwilling at public institutions? Threat of retaliation is precisely what allows majority Christians to cram their religion down the throats of all in public venues all over Arkansas.
The Liberty Institute contends ASU has infringed on private speech by having a portion of the memorial message removed to eliminate the cross. It is clearly within the school’s power to control what symbols and words appear on its taxpayer-financed uniforms. If not, any player could put anything on his helmet, could he not? A naked woman, a star of David, a Muslim crescent? Oh, but, of course, no good Arkansas Christian would do that. Or they dare not. Somebody probably would retaliate. But, if ASU has crossed a viewpoint line by removing the religion portion of the message, it can remedy the matter by removing the memorial entirely to satisfy the bullies at the Liberty Institute.
I’m reminded again of Greene County Tech, near ASU, which defied a complaint about regular erection of a Christian Nativity scene in an elementary school. The law is on the side of the ACLU, which made a complaint. But finding a plaintiff willing to take on such angry defiance is a difficult thing.
It couldn’t be clearer at ASU that the fight for the Liberty Institute is about advancing the cause of religion, not the memorial to the dead friends.
The Liberty Institute (which intervened to protect regular visits by church groups to Conway schools) demand:
Liberty Institute on behalf of its client—an Arkansas State University football player who wishes to remain anonymous because he fears retaliation by the university—sent a demand letter to university officials for violating his team’s free speech rights for censoring a student memorial helmet sticker. Recently, university officials defaced the stickers by physically trimming them into a straight line—to remove the vertical line that once formed a cross—in an effort to erase any and all religious references from public sight.
“We are about to find out if Arkansas State University will follow the law or simply used the excuse of the FFRF letter to purposefully engage in unconstitutional religious viewpoint discrimination,” said Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute Litigation Director. “The players put themselves through a physical, emotional, and mental grind throughout the year to stand up and represent everything that is good about Arkansas State University, its fans, its alumni and the surrounding community. Now we will find out if Arkansas State University will stand up for them and the Constitution of the United States.”
The letter requests that ASU officials cease censoring and publicly acknowledge, in writing, the right of its students to engage in private speech by Sept. 17, to avoid further legal action. To view a copy of the demand letter online, follow this link.
Liberty Institute is a national nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, inside our military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our Founding Fathers. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org