A conservative legal firm is claiming victory after Arkansas State University announced that it will reverse its decision to force football players to remove or alter a cross decal intended to commemorate deceased members of their team.
The Liberty Institute, the firm representing an anonymous player who fought the removal of the Christian sticker, says its attorneys received a letter from Arkansas State University affirming that players will once again be allowed to use the original decal design on their helmets, if they so choose.
Conversations with the Arkansas attorney general's office also confirmed the reversal, according to the firm.
"This is a great victory for the players of Arkansas State University!," Liberty Institute litigation director Hiram Sasser said in a statement issued to TheBlaze. "The university officials and the Arkansas attorney general did the right thing restoring the religious liberty and free speech rights of the players to have the original cross sticker design if they so choose and we commend them for doing so."
Todd Starnes/Arkansas State University
As previously reported, the cross decals were ordered removed from players’ football helmets at Arkansas State University after complaints that their presence violated the First Amendment.
The small Christian symbol had been placed on helmets to commemorate the lives of Markel Owens, a former player, and Barry Weyer, the former equipment manager, according to conservative commentator Todd Starnes.
But when Louis Nisenbaum, an attorney in Jonesboro, Arkansas, saw the team playing on television recently, he reached out to the university’s legal counsel to complain about the cross. Arkansas State University attorney Lucinda McDaniel subsequently agreed that the symbol was problematic, recommending that athletic director Terry Mohajir order it removed or alter it.
“While we could argue that the cross with the initials of the fallen student and trainer merely memorialize their passing, the symbol we have authorized to convey that message is a Christian cross,” she wrote, expressing fears that the university would lose a potential legal challenge.
Mohajir, who disagreed with the decision to remove the crosses, said he was merely supporting the players’ individual rights by allowing it in the first place.
“My job is to support our players and our coaches in their expression of any type of grief, and that’s what I was doing,” Mohajir said in an interview with USA Today. “Yes, it is unfortunate, and I am disappointed. However, we’re also going to uphold whatever legal advice we got, and that’s what we did based on the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”
But the Liberty Institute is now content with the decision to once again allow the crosses, praising the right of players to commemorate the deceased young men.
"Above all, we are glad to see that Markel Owens and Barry Weyer will have another year on the football field at Arkansas State because of the compassion and courage of their teammates," said Sasser.