By: Dakota Gillespie
According to USA Today, Arkansas State is removing a Christian cross decal from the back of its football helmets. This decision comes after an alleged complaint that the decal violated separation of church and state which is a violation of the U.S. Constitution, the university said Wednesday (Sept. 10).
Athletics director Terry Mohajir said he wanted to dispute the decision because the decal was intended to honor former player Markel Owens and equipment manager Barry Weyer, who both died this year. Weyer was killed in a June car crash and Owens was gunned down in Tennessee in January. However, Mohajir said he had little choice but to follow advice from the university’s legal counsel to remove or alter the symbol.
Rebecca Markert, an attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said her organization had been looking into the matter since hearing about the decals over the weekend but had not yet filed a formal complaint with Arkansas State.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has been looking into potential church-state separation issues at college football programs during the past year, particularly at Clemson and Ole Miss. Markert said the organization recently filed an open records request with Ole Miss regarding its chaplain program.
According to documents provided to USA Today by Arkansas State, Jonesboro, Ark., attorney Louis Nisenbaum sent an email to University Counsel Lucinda McDaniel on Saturday, pointing out that he noticed the crosses while watching Arkansas State’s game at Tennessee earlier that day. “That is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause as a state endorsement of the Christian religion,” Nisenbaum wrote. “Please advise whether you agree and whether ASU will continue this practice.”
On Monday, McDaniel wrote an e-mail to Mohajir saying she found no specific legal cases that addressed crosses on football helmets but recommended that the bottom of the cross be cut off so that the symbol was a plus sign instead.
Mohajir said the original idea for the decal came from a leadership committee composed of players and that wearing it was completely voluntary, which is why he approved it in the first place. “Any time our players have an expression of faith and want to honor two members of the football program, I’m 100% behind them,” he said.
As a Christian, student and football player, I am having a hard time understanding why we as Christians have to give up our rights just to be fair to everyone else’s. I believe Freedom of Religion is my constitutional right just as much as the next person and I choose to stand up for those rights. Shouldn’t all Christians?