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by Terry Werner

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peacefully to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." -Amendment 1, The Constitution of the United States of America

Since the start of the war in March 2003, 979 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq and almost 7,000 have been wounded. August was one of the bloodiest months yet, with nearly 1,100 injured. No matter your views on the war, we all support our troops and their safe return home. Also, no matter your views, those soldiers believe that they are fighting and dying to preserve our liberties here in the United States.

The very liberties that these brave men and women are fighting for overseas seem be eroding away here at home. As a community we must talk about all of the issues dealing with the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001", known as the Patriots Act. We will debate this at the local level, but right now I am concerned about the mood of our country, state and city. People seem willing to exchange liberties for real or imagined security. But, as Benjamin Franklin said, "Those who would give up essential liberties for a measure of security, deserve neither liberty nor security."

Conservative, former Congressperson Bob Barr wrote in "Find Law’s Legal Commentary" on August 25, 2004, an article titled "The FBI's Pre-emptive Interrogations of "Possible" Demonstrators: Chilling Political Speech" about a new FBI memo. He wrote: "The FBI, no longer content with working to maintain order at political events, is now preemptively identifying and interrogating ("interviewing") possible demonstrators. It has summarized this strategy in a memo. To make matters worse, the Department of Justice blessed the FBI strategy in its own memo - suggesting that no First Amendment concerns are raised by the interrogations. … however, the truth is quite to the contrary: The strategy, as outlined in the memo, is a serious threat to free speech".

Congressperson Barr continues: "Reagan, with his constant good humor, almost always disarmed protesters with his wit. Conservatives wearing anti-Clinton T-shirts frequently showed up at Clinton rallies. The worst they might face from the then-president's supporters were scowls. This atmosphere didn't mean security was absent; it was very present. In the 1960s through the end of Clinton's second term in January 2001, everyone knew if you caused disruption, Secret Service agents would be on you in an instant, as they should be. But during that period, you didn't feel you were doing something criminal if you simply decided to show up at a rally with a protest T-shirt on, or lugging around a sloppy paperboard sign criticizing the president. You didn't feel intimidated." I only mention Congressperson Barr’s article because it illustrates the harmlessness of a simple t-shirt.

This attitude seems to be alive and well right here in Nebraska and in Lincoln. I am very concerned. This past week Chancellor Perlman issued a ban on political campaigning at the Nebraska football games (rescinded for at least the first game). The Chancellor "has argued that the university has the right to limit speech in this case and is justified in doing so because the game day politicking bothers fans. He said the policy, which appears to ban political literature while allowing commercial, religious or nonprofit fliers with the proper permit, is legally defensible but may also be unclear and difficult to enforce." LJS 9/4/04

There may be fans that agree with Chancellor Perlman that this is bothersome to them. However, it seems to me that this may be a small intrusion that they must tolerate in a free society. Some day it may be something of importance to them that is banned. The football games are a public event and the public has a right to be there and to express any point of view they choose. We should not tolerate this erosion of our first amendment rights at the football games or anywhere in our state. People are dying to preserve those rights.

On the Sunday of Labor Day weekend I attended our State Fair and the Congressional debate sponsored by the Farm Bureau. Attending a political debate is one of our greatest liberties, along with the right to vote - public participate in the democratic process. However, I was denied access to the debate because I was wearing a t-shirt in support of one of the candidates. I was told that the Farm Bureau leased the facility and could deny access to anyone. Furthermore the candidates agreed to the stipulation. I don’t know what the candidates agreed to but I say shame on the Farm Bureau and anyone else who supports denying us our freedom of expression anywhere! I was required to put duct tape over the candidates name on my t-shirt before they would allow me into the auditorium. How possibly could a t-shirt or sticker affect the debate? This was a blatant attempt to simply control the audience.

These may seem like small things, no politics at the NU games and no t-shirts or stickers at a political debate, but I believe them to be enormous. We cannot stand idly by and allow anyone, anywhere, to chip away at our freedoms that millions before us have worked so hard to preserve.

Terry Werner was elected to an at-large seat on the City Council in 2001.

Council Comments