The small cross decals featuring two sets of initials were supposed to be a tiny tribute to remember deceased members of the team, but now Arkansas State University football players will have to remove the emblems over fears of a constitutional violation.
On Wednesday, the Jonesboro, Ark. university’s counsel Lucinda McDaniel contacted athletic director Terry Mohajir about the cross decals, saying that they could potentially be interpreted as an endorsement of Christianity by the public school.
USA Today reports that McDaniel was spurred by an email from a local attorney who noticed the decals during the Red Wolves’ game on Saturday. While the attorney did not yet threaten legal action, he said the decals were “a clear violation of the Establishment Clause as a state endorsement of the Christian religion,” breaching the wall of separation between Church and State.
The lawyer asked McDaniel to state whether the university will continue to allow the decals to remain.
In her explanation to Mohajir, McDaniel stated that use of the decals “violates the legal prohibition of endorsing religion.” She suggested cut off the top and bottom parts of the cross to more closely more closely resemble either a plus sign or simply keeping the patibulum, or horizontal part, rather than the Christian symbol.
She noted the modified version would still display the the initials M. O. and B. W., for Markel Owens and Barry Weyer, Jr., respectively.
In January, Owens, a player on the team, and his stepfather were shot and killed when three men who broke in to their own in Tennessee, according to KAIT. Owens’s mother, who survived her gun wound, praised her son’s “heroic” efforts in the invasion, which she believes spared her life.
Weyer, an equipment manager, was killed in a car crash in June.
Team leaders proposed the decals and said members of the team could wear them voluntarily, but the university still said crosses still pose a legal problem.
Mohajir called the university’s decision “unfortunate” and “disappointed.”
“Any time our players have an expression of faith and wanting to honor two members of the football program, I’m 100% behind them,” he said in a statement. “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.”
“That’s what we were told we needed to do,” Mohajir continued. “So that’s what we did.”
— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.