ASU Football Team Harassed for Mourning Loss of Teammates

Sep 11, 2014

Jonesboro, AR— When Arkansas State University football team tragically lost two teammates, the athletes decided to mourn their loss by adding a small vinyl cross and the lost teammates’ initials to their helmets. However, Jonesboro, Arkansas, attorney Louis Nisenbaum complained that the student-initiated memorial was akin to Congress establishing a religion, and ASU Counsel Lucinda McDaniel told the players to cut the bottom of the cross off, so that it resembles a “plus sign.”

“After fighting for students’ rights for many years, nothing should surprise me, but I am appalled that someone would harass these young people as they mourn the deaths of their teammates,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “I am saddened that the university did not stand up for their rights. These young people have done nothing wrong! They have as much right to communicate their ideas--or in this case, their grief--as the attorney who somehow feels offended by the small vinyl crosses they are wearing on their helmets.”

The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of students in a similar case, “In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in schools as well as out of school are ‘persons’ under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect, just as they themselves must respect their obligations to the State. In our system, students may not be regarded as closed-circuit recipients of only that which the State chooses to communicate. They may not be confined to the expression of those sentiments that are officially approved. In the absence of a specific showing of constitutionally valid reasons to regulate their speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views” (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District).

“The university should immediately rescind the unconstitutional directive suppressing private student expression in the form of crosses on individual players' helmets,” Liberty Counsel said in a letter to Arkansas State University Chancellor Tim Hudson. “If the University abides by the Constitution, and is later called into question, Liberty Counsel would be pleased to present a united defense of both the University for respecting individual rights, and the players' individual First Amendment rights.”

Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.



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