LSU Grabs Tiger by Tail in Altering ‘Posse’ Picture

You would think that, with Louisiana State University’s 7-1 overall record and 3-1 Southeastern Conference record, fans of the No. 6-ranked college football team would focus all their attention on the upcoming game against No. 1-ranked Alabama.

Face it, this will be a big game.

But seriously, folks.

An interesting issue has risen out of Baton Rouge, La., thanks to a snafu involving the university’s decision to retouch a photo of a group of students for use in a marketing email.

The original photo is of four members of the LSU “Painted Posse,” who each week cover themselves in body paint and assemble in the stands to spell out a message in support of the Tigers football team.

Painted Posse members also are devout Christians. In addition to the purple and gold LSU symbols, they paint small crosses over their hearts to indicate their faith in Jesus Christ.

LSU officials posted the original photo on the university’s Facebook page and elsewhere, but when using the photograph in a marketing email, chose to airbrush away the crosses on the young men’s chests.

Officials admit they did this out of concern that religious symbols would offend recipients of the email and claim that school policy with regard to marketing materials is to avoid any and all depictions of religious symbolism.

The university has admitted that removing the crosses from the photo did cause offense — to the four young men in the picture, to whom the school has apologized.

The guys, to their credit, have accepted the apology, and are perhaps the only fans on the LSU campus who are more concerned with beating Alabama than with the now-international news about the retouched photo.

In fact, plenty of folks are highly offended.

In several discussion threads on LSU’s Facebook page, students and alumni have expressed concern that the school trampled on the free-speech rights of students.

For its part, the university cites its right to use the “likeness” of any football ticket holder, as stated on the back of each ticket. The word “likeness” means the school can (and does) retouch photos as it sees fit.

Regardless of LSU’s reasoning and irrespective of its promise not to use photos in the future in which religious symbols must be removed in order to follow its stated “secular-only” photo policy, the whole thing is just profoundly sad.

Here’s why: Cameron Cooke, one of the students in the photograph, was quoted in one media story as explaining, “The cross painting is important to me because it represents who I am as a Christ follower. And it reminds me who I need to act like in Death Valley,” referring to Tiger Stadium’s nickname.

In other words, the original photo reflects the authentic character of a member of the student body, as well as the freedom he feels to express his religious belief publicly on the campus of LSU.

That’s an awesome reflection of the atmosphere at a public university, where freedom of expression ought to be a hallmark of an educational institution.

Instead, LSU — tiptoeing through the minefield of political correctness, as so many colleges and universities now do — is choosing to earmark certain of its audiences as being appropriate for the “real” picture, while others must be treated with the kid gloves of PC accommodation.

We’re sending the wrong signal to young Americans when we teach them that their outward symbols of belief — religious or otherwise — should rightly be hidden in the interest of avoiding “offense.”

Marybeth Hicks is a columnist for The Washington Times and founder and editor of Ontheculture.com.