Friday, September 19, 2014

How much of the 1st Amendment is protected on Arkansas State University football helmets

Posted By on Fri, Sep 19, 2014 at 11:26 AM

click to enlarge WHY NOT: If crosses OK at ASU, why not other symbols. Free speech, right? - BRYAN MOATS/PHOTO ILLUSTRATION
  • Bryan Moats/Photo illustration
  • WHY NOT: If crosses OK at ASU, why not other symbols. Free speech, right?

News that Arkansas State University and the attorney general of Arkansas had folded to a conservative religious group and allowed football players to put Christian crosses on their football helmets led me to ask a question:

If individual expression is protected by the 1st Amendment on ASU football helmets in the form of a cross, isn't it also protected for the player who wants to put a Muslim crescent, a Star of David, a Druid, the legend "666" or just about anything on the helmet. The 1st Amendment isn't just about religion, you know. Why couldn't players put a Tom Cotton or Mark Pryor bumper sticker on their helmets? It's free expression, right?

Seemed like a fair question — is only Christian speech protected at ASU? I've been assured by ASU officials that an answer is coming from President Charles Welch. Still waiting.

The cross decal was created as a memorial to dead friends of the team. They were removed after questions  were raised. Then a conservative legal group that tries to force religion into public life wrote a threatening letter. The school defended removal of the crosses as preventing a university-mandated uniform with religious overtones, but said players were free to affix a decal if they chose as individualsw. Religious Righters all over Arkansas are cheering and apparently lots of missionary zeal will be on evidence at the next ASU game. The athletic department distributed this notice yesterday:

“Due to NCAA rules, fans are asked to remember it is impermissible to give student-athletes anything that would be considered an extra benefit, including items such as t-shirts, hats, pins or decals.” – Terry Mohajir, Director of Athletics

Praise Jesus. The right flavor of God still holds sway at ASU. And really: Can an NCAA rule trump the 1st Amendment? I bet the Liberty Institute would sue ASU's ass off, or the NCAA, if a player got punished for taking a cross from a fan to wear around his neck into battle against Utah State.

UPDATE: There will be no answer to my question from the craven leadership of Arkansas State University. Through spokesman Jeff Hankins comes this response to my questions to Welch:

Because of threatened litigation, we cannot comment any further. The letter speaks for itself.

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