A Washington, D.C.-based legal organization and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Cobb County chapter sent a letter to the state Board of Regents on Tuesday demanding an investigation into Kennesaw State University’s policy change that keeps some cheerleaders from protesting against police brutality during the national anthem on the football field.
KSU announced it would no longer allow cheerleaders on the field during the anthem, a week after five cheerleaders knelt in silent protest at the Sept. 30 game. KSU has said the change is unrelated to the protests. The Board of Regents announced last week it’s conducting a review of KSU’s response to the cheerleaders’ decision to kneel.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week that Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren boasted in a series of text messages to state Rep. Earl Ehrhart about pressuring KSU president Sam Olens into keeping the school’s cheerleaders off the field. Olens has said he talked to Warren after KSU’s athletics department made the change.
The three-page letter from the SCLC and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law contends the change violates the cheerleaders’ constitutional rights to free speech and cites U.S. Supreme Court rulings to conclude that KSU cannot compel students into “coerced patriotic displays” such as the national anthem.
“Denying the cheerleading squad the opportunity to be present during our national anthem is not an act of patriotism; it is an act of retaliation,” the letter says. “The public reports indicate that KSU and other public officials violated these students’ First Amendment rights by retaliating against their peaceful protest based on the students’ viewpoints.”
The Board of Regents received the letter, but declined comment, a spokesman said.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has set a deadline of Friday to hear back from the board, or they will weigh their options, said Kristen Clarke, its president and executive director. Clarke said the letter was written, in part, to pressure the board to move quickly with its review.
“We deem it critical that we stand up for student-athletes that stand up for their First Amendment rights,” Clarke said in an interview.
Cobb residents and students have been divided over the appropriateness of the protests.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has been involved in several legal battles in Georgia in recent years. It filed a lawsuit last year against Gwinnett County, seeking to overturn county commission and school board districts they say have been drawn to thwart minority voters.