"Americanism" bill debated; fallout from budget abortion language begins

March 29, 2018, 5:38 a.m. ·

Sen. Lydia Brasch leads off debate Thursday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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A proposal to update state requirements for schools to teach “Americanism” stirred controversy in the Nebraska Legislature Thursday. And fallout continued from abortion language lawmakers approved in the budget Wednesday night.

The Americanism proposal, sponsored by Sen. Lydia Brasch, would update a law that says schools should instill the love of “liberty, justice, democracy, and America” in the youth of the state. Brasch said that law was passed in 1949, contrasting what she said was the spirit of those days with these. “We came together in a spirit of strength like never before. And you fast forward to today, 2018, and everywhere you look we’re in a crisis of identity. America has become polarized and paralyzed,” Brasch said.

Brasch’s bill would have schools help students become “competent, responsible, patriotic, and civil American citizens.” Supporting the proposal, Sen. John Murante said un-American concepts are prevalent among many young people. “Among millennials, the twenty-somethings, concepts like speech equals violence, and that hearing opinions with which you disagree should appropriately be met with violence. You see it on campuses all across the country, that simply having speakers come to a campus to articulate opinions that may be controversial is met with violence That needs to be taught in our schools that that is fundamentally un-American,” Murante said.

Opposing the proposal, Sen. Carol Blood objected to the criticism of young people, referring to recent demonstrations against school violence. “I really have grave concern when I hear people start shouting about Americanism. And talking about how we need to teach our children about freedom of speech and the right way to use the First Amendment. What do you think they’re doing? They’re getting involved. They’re angry at us. They are angry at us. To say that they need to learn how to do it correctly -- how dare we ever talk about that?” Blood said.

One part of the bill would require students to take the civics portion of the same test immigrants take to become citizens. They would not have to pass to graduate. Nevertheless, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan said it was important. “Tests focus the mind. Then there’s concern about whether dates and names are important. They’re very important,” Linehan said. “Facts – when was our country founded, when was World War I fought, how many members do we have -- each state -- have in the Senate, how many House members, why are there (a) certain number of House members from one state, and different (in) another state, understanding the Constitution – those are facts that are important.”

Sen. Adam Morfeld suggested requiring yet another test was getting the cart before the horse. “We should be focusing on building critical thinking skills – going to students and going ‘What do you love about your community? What do you love about your neighborhood? What are some things you want to change?’ Let’s talk about those issues,” Morfeld said. “Let’s have some critical thinking exercises on how we deal with those issues. Oh, and then ‘What forms and branches of government should we interact with in order to achieve those goals? And here’s those branches of government, and here’s how we interact with that government.’”

Sen. Curt Friesen, supporting the proposal, said students have not been taught to think. “That’s why Facebook and Twitter are so successful in influencing our elections, if that’s the way you look at it. They read these little Twitter accounts and Facebook posts and it’s false information, and they don’t have the critical skills to analyze what’s fake news and what’s not, and they’re basing it on false information,” Friesen said. “We have not taught them to think.”

Senators voted 27-13, to pull Brasch’s bill out of the Education Committee to the full Legislature for further debate. But with only eight days remaining in the session, it’s not clear if that will happen.

Sen. Ernie Chambers told his colleagues if it does come up, the topics he’ll bring up may not make for comfortable discussion. “We’re going to talk about slavery, you’re going to talk about interning the Japanese Americans, you’re going to talk about the attempt to exterminate the native Americans by giving them smallpox-infected blankets, you’re going to talk about stealing their land, you’re going to talk about the treaty-breaking, you’re going to talk about being the only country to drop the atomic bomb -- two of them -- on people at a time when they were suing for peace, all of these,” Chambers said. “You don’t want to talk about this. And you know it.”

Also Thursday, the Legislature gave first round approval to a package of prison bills that would, among other things, require the Department of Correctional Services and the Board of Parole to report how they would accelerate parole decisions if the state fails to meet a deadline in two years to reduce overcrowding.

And fallout began from the Legislature’s vote Wednesday night for language in the main budget bill that will likely keep any federal family planning money from going to Planned Parenthood. Supporters of that organization rallied on the steps of the Capitol. One of them, Billie Douglass, described how Planned Parenthood helped her in an abusive relationship. “I was becoming sexually active, and I was desperate for any sort of help. And my boyfriend at the time had other ideas of me not wanting to get pregnant. He wanted to keep me in his grip as long as he could. The provider knew that I wasn’t ready to leave him, that I was still in the state of wanting to stay, wanting to make it work. And instead of shaming me and having me feel as if I was wrong, they just gave me the birth control that they knew he wouldn’t have his hold on me forever,” Douglass said.

Meanwhile, Julie Schmit-Albin of Nebraska Right to Life supported the anti-abortion language. That language still allows organizations to refer patients for abortions in case of medical emergency. Schmit-Albin said people will be watching abortion statistics, and if they see a major uptick in abortions for medical emergencies, that might indicate abuse of the law.