Editorial Roundup: Nebraska

Omaha World-Herald. July 3, 2022.

Editorial: Religious freedom includes keeping government out of religious matters

It’s right there in the first words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

The religious provisions of the First Amendment have stood the country in good stead for more than two centuries. They have made America a beacon in the world when it comes to allowing people to freely practice their religions — and in keeping government from setting laws and policies that promote a particular church or religious practice.

America needs to continue to respect and balance both of those freedoms.

Past history and current events around the world have demonstrated how governments sometimes persecute people of certain faiths. Or prevent some from exercising their beliefs. Or impose a single set of religious views on a pluralistic society.

But that’s not the American way.

That’s why it’s important to challenge statements by some public officials last week after recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk that’s not in the Constitution,” said Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Colorado Republican. She also stated that “the church is supposed to direct the government.”

The Founding Fathers intended no such thing. Instead, they made clear that they didn’t want America to have a state-sponsored religion like the Church of England. So it’s hard to imagine that they thought a church should be telling the secular government what to do. And, by the way, which church should be given that power?

Closer to home, Nebraska Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen tweeted last week: “I strongly support efforts to put prayer back into our K-12 schools.” His campaign platform specifies his emphasis on Christian prayer, although he did not describe how those prayers would be organized.

It’s difficult to see how Nebraska school officials could fairly add prayer into taxpayer-funded classrooms without threatening the rights of individual students to worship as they choose. Nebraska is home to people of many different faiths, not all of them Christian, as well as some who do not embrace any religion. Even among Christian denominations, considerable differences exist in church doctrines and practices.

Public schools must respect the diversity of religious and non-religious views and steer clear of requiring or pressuring children to pray a certain way — or at all.

Certainly the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment can be tricky to implement. The two principles — no state religion, but individual freedom to practice religion — sometimes clash in real life and need to be sorted out.

Thus the Supreme Court was called upon to rule last week in a case where a high school coach in Washington state had been prevented by his school district from praying on the 50-yard line after a game.

The district was concerned that a public prayer session by a school employee at a sanctioned school event might prompt a lawsuit against the district for endorsing religion. That fear is grounded in the possibility that some students on the team might feel coerced to participate in such prayers or excluded if they did not.

But the court ruled 6-3 that the key factor was the coach’s right as an individual to worship freely, something that the district should not interfere with.

Not everyone agrees that the justices got it exactly right, but these sorts of religious freedom cases will always be difficult as courts try to weigh the competing values. This particular Supreme Court has signaled that it leans more heavily on the side of individual religious rights.

But both parts of the First Amendment remain intact and essential. And the part that bans government from establishing a religion protects believers and nonbelievers alike, because it separates matters of personal faith from any government influence or control.

As the Nebraska State Constitution says: “All persons have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences. No person shall be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship against his consent, and no preference shall be given by law to any religious society, nor shall any interference with the rights of conscience be permitted.”

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Lincoln Journal Star. June 29, 2022.

Editorial: Study will save time, money, pain down the line

The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska wants an environmental impact study on a pair of proposed carbon dioxide pipelines before permits are granted to build thousands of miles of pipeline across several Great Plains states to carry gas from ethanol plants to sequestration sites deep underground in North Dakota and Illinois.

The surprise, frankly, is that such a study is not already underway and the permitting process is moving forward without such an assessment.

In fact, a study of the proposals should, if it is found to have little negative environmental impact, reduce opposition to the pipelines, make it easier to obtain the rights to build the lines on private land and reassure the public that the pipelines will have the benefits its proponents claim.

By sequestering carbon dioxide, Iowa-based Summit Carbon Solutions, which is proposing some 2,000 miles of pipelines, and Navigator Ventures, which has proposed 1,300 miles, could take advantage of a tax credit passed in 2008 that would provide $50 for every ton of carbon stored for up to 12 years – a recognition of the need to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to combat global warming.

Ethanol plants have been eager to sign up for the project because moving the CO2 will reduce their “carbon intensity” scores, maintaining their access to markets, such as California, with strict standards for fuel producers.

That would help Nebraska corn growers, who supply ethanol plants with roughly 280 million bushels of corn each year. That is nearly 40% of the corn grown in the state each year, grain that would likely have no market if the “carbon intensity” scores cannot be reduced and the plants are forced to shut down.

Opponents, however, argue that the pipeline proposals are nothing but a “cash grab,” that the technology of burying carbon dioxide hasn’t been proven and the project will not do enough to curb greenhouse gas emissions from the plants.

The “cash grab” allegations are, to be fair, political rhetoric aimed at stirring opponents. But the questions of the technology for transporting and burying the carbon dioxide and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions can be addressed in a study.

Permitting agencies, be they county boards in Nebraska, state agencies here and in surrounding states and at the federal level, should require such a study before giving the project a go-ahead.

Any delay created would simply be prudent and could likely prevent years of opposition over the use of eminent domain and environmental issues that, as of now, seems sure to occur, both in public bodies and the courts.

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