Eagle Forum Legislative Alerts

Friday, November 28, 2014

Religious Students Have Rights, Too

When the football players at Arkansas State University lost two teammates earlier this year, they decided they wanted to memorialize the deceased students at games. Their coach created a small sticker for their helmets with a cross and the students’ initials. Most of the players chose to wear this. A local atheist noticed the cross stickers and complained to the university’s general counsel that the stickers were a clear “state endorsement of the Christian religion.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which always finds it easy to be offended about something, chimed in to agree.

The school’s general counsel panicked and told the athletic director to remove the stickers or to deface the crosses to make them look like plus signs or straight lines. The football players argued that wearing the crosses was voluntary, but the school still said the crosses had to be removed anyway.

Then one student threatened to sue. He was represented by the Liberty Institute, whose lawyer pointed out that the university had violated the students’ rights to free speech. It was a useful reminder that conservatives and Christians have rights, too. The right to freedom of religion and freedom of speech are protected by the Constitution, but the First Amendment doesn’t say anything about a right to never hear or see speech that might offend you.

The school finally decided to allow any student who wanted to wear the cross to go ahead and wear it. The university also insisted that it was not obligated to make this allowance, but in their benevolence, the cross was allowed to be voluntary. Of course it was already voluntary to begin with.

I’m still encouraged that the university backed down when a student stood up for his rights. That should be an encouragement to all of us who have been told we can’t speak freely for fear of offending somebody.

Listen to the radio commentary here:

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