Ole Miss, ASU mix football and religion; complaint prompts removal of cross from ASU helmets | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ole Miss, ASU mix football and religion; complaint prompts removal of cross from ASU helmets

Posted By on Wed, Sep 10, 2014 at 12:05 PM

CROSS WORDS: Radio reporter Kara Richey says the Freedom from Religion Foundation is inquiring about memorial crosses on ASU football helmets.
  • CROSS WORDS: Radio reporter Kara Richey says the Freedom from Religion Foundation is inquiring about memorial crosses on ASU football helmets.

click to enlarge TO CHANGE: Cross will go, initials will stay on ASU helmets.
  • TO CHANGE: Cross will go, initials will stay on ASU helmets.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation has made requests for information from Ole Miss about religion practices in football. Ole Miss has a team chaplain and its head coach, Hugh Freeze, regularly proselytizes and holds weekly prayer meetings (voluntary supposedly).  The foundation has asked for records on:

*All football program, university and athletic department policies regarding coach- and clergy-led prayers.
*Schedules of religious services or gatherings related to worship, including activities led by team chaplain John Powell.
*Email communication between football staff and Powell.
*Records related to Powell's travel with the team and any financial payments or reimbursements made to him.
*Any job postings for football chaplain, or other positions related to spiritual development of football players.
*Any other records related to Powell's work with the team.

FFRF staff attorney Sam Grover said they are trying to determine the extent of public monies being spent on Powell and his involvement with the football program. After receiving a response to the records request, the group could seek further action.

The Foundation also is taking a look at Arkansas State University (where Freeze once coached), Tweets Kara Richey, who reports about ASU on Radio 95.3. The Foundation told Richey it had been contacted about cross decals on ASU helmets this year and it is inquiring, though not ready to say it will file a formal complaint. (See photo from her Twitter page above.) She says the crosses are in memory of a former team member and an equipment manager.

Can friends be remembered by means other than Christian iconography? Is it possible for football team members to choose to pray or not pray without the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle coercion) of prayer exercises, team chaplains, "voluntary" weekly church services and coach witnessing through social media accounts supported by taxpayer-financed institutions? Of course. And, of course, evangelistic Christians will evangelize. That's part of their belief system.

However .... The Constitution and the courts have — at least until Scalia and Co. came along — been disinclined to support establishment of a particular flavor of locally popular religion through public institutional practices. You can guess what public reaction will be to anyone brave enough to say ASU should find another means to pay tribute to friends than a Christian cross. The truth is there is a strong segment in our society that DOES want to cram their religion down unwilling throats. (Remember when the Greene County schools, up ASU way, defied complaints about an annual Nativity display?)

PS — I know everybody's a Christian in these parts, right? Who could possibly object to wearing a cross? Still, you might be interested in the number and variety of religious symbols allowed on headstones in the national cemeteries where military veterans are buried.  It doesn't stop with the Star of David and the five-pointed Muslim star.

UPDATE: Fox 16 reports statements from the ASU athletic department:

“After consulting with University counsel, we have been advised to either modify the decal or remove it completely"-

The statement added:

 "I am 100 percent in support of our coaches’ and players’ expression of faith..." 

Me, too. But I'd prefer that a public institution not lend taxpayer-purchased materials for their use in expressing that faith.

More here from KAIT, which quotes Athletic Director Terry Mohajir as saying the initials of Markel Owens, a player who was slain, and equipment manager Barry Weyer Jr., who died in accident, would remain on the helmets. Good solution.

The full ASU statement follows:



ARKANSAS STATE ATHLETICS STATEMENT ON FOOTBALL HELMET DECALS
HONORING THE LATE MARKEL OWENS AND BARRY WEYER

JONESBORO, Ark. (9/10/14) – Arkansas State Director of Athletics Terry Mohajir has issued the following statement regarding the football team’s helmet decals honoring former player Markel Owens and manager Barry Weyer, who both tragically passed away earlier this year.

“I am 100 percent in support of our coaches’ and players’ expression of faith, as well as their choice to honor the two individuals associated with our team who passed away by voluntarily wearing a cross decal on the back of their helmets. Unfortunately, we have received a complaint that use of the cross violates the Constitutional prohibition against separation of church and state.

“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.”


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