Editorial Roundup: Nebraska

Omaha World-Herald. Nov. 14, 2021.

Editorial: ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ promotes unity; Ricketts’ criticism is divisive

“Shadowed beneath Thy hand / May we forever stand

“True to our God / True to our native land / Our native land.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts finds this divisive.

We disagree and, while we understand his political motive all too well, are saddened that the governor has taken to weighing in on every single cultural issue.

Even a song.

Even a song rooted in the American story that celebrates freedom.

Even a hymn of reverence and gratitude to the same God the governor worships.

Even a song deeply meaningful to Black Americans as a recognition of their arduous journey from slavery toward American liberty.

For those not familiar with this dust-up, Ricketts on Nov. 5 issued an official statement complaining that “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which the NAACP in 1919 declared to be the “Negro national anthem,” was being played alongside “The Star-Spangled Banner” before Husker basketball games.

Ricketts’ statement said, “There is only one national anthem for the United States: It’s the Star-Spangled Banner. It’s a symbol of our national unity and it’s the only anthem for America that should be played before Husker games. If athletic programs are going to play other ‘anthems’ before games, what has historically been a moment of patriotic pride will become nothing more than a series of political gestures that will divide Nebraskans based on their identity rather than bringing us together.”

In fact, it is Ricketts’ comments that were as divisive as they were needless. Were he seeking a solution, rather than scoring cheap political points, he could have reached out to the athletic department behind the scenes. But solution and sensitivity clearly were not his goals.

Let’s rewind to the awful summer of 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the protests it launched nationwide. Confronted once again with our country’s struggles with race relations and equity, business and political leaders promised positive change — as they have so often before.

Ricketts was among them. After a kerfuffle over his referring to Nebraska Black leaders as “you guys,” which was misheard or misstated as his saying “you people,” Ricketts told Black radio personality William King he was “learning the culture” of the African American community.

At a separate news conference, he said issues for communities of color and access to equal justice “are real and important.”

Among the institutional responses to events that summer was a decision by many sports institutions to begin playing “Lift Every Voice” along with “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games. The NFL did it. The NBA did it. The National Association of Basketball Coaches suggested it for college games, and all Big Ten teams that stay on the floor for the playing of the national anthem now also play “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

These sports are dominated by Black players, and including the song is a show of respect. These great athletes are not stage performers for White fans who get to set the rules. They are stakeholders, and it is only proper to include their views in shaping their competitive and work environments.

The Nebraska athletic department’s response to Ricketts was both perfect and mature. It is changing the order in which the songs are played, with the national anthem first, men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg said. Next, “We will clear the flag and then to promote unity and inclusion, we will play ‘Lift Every Voice’ after that.”

We don’t think anyone was confused about which song was the U.S. national anthem, as Ricketts seemed to suggest, but the change is a reasonable compromise.

Besides being the right thing to do, playing “Lift Every Voice” is helpful in showing recruits that Nebraska is a welcoming place.

That’s true not just for athletes. It is absolutely essential for our future economic health. Business leaders across the state have long recognized that Nebraska must promote and live out diversity and inclusion if it is to attract and retain millennial and younger workers needed to address our acute labor shortage.

The Ricketts administration drew praise on these pages for adding $10 million to its campaign called “The Good Life is Calling” to attract these workers — but the governor routinely undercuts the needed messaging.

Back in June 2020, Ricketts asked King to judge his heart, and apologized for using “trigger words.”

Has his heart changed? Or, perhaps, the potential for GOP political gain from hooey such as overhyping critical race theory and criticizing hymns is just a lot more important to him.

Playing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before basketball games is not divisive. It is respectful and extends a musical hand for us all to grasp in unity.

Ricketts’ regrettable choice to put politics before equality and inclusion deepens the division that is tearing at our national fabric. We would be better served if our leaders instead chose to promote healing.

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Lincoln Journal Star. Nov. 12, 2021.

Editorial: Abuse report has limitations, reveals progress

Priests in the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln will be holding a day of fasting Friday in “reparation for offenses” identified in Nebraska Attorney General’s report that found 97 cases of church sex abuse in the diocese since the 1930s.

During that day of fasting, Bishop James Conley has ordered priests to conduct three Masses for the “healing of victims,” corollaries to the apology that Conley and the bishops of the Omaha and Grand Island dioceses offered to the 258 victims identified by the report to have suffered abuse by the misconduct of 57 Catholic Church officials.

The apologies, Masses and sentiment are for those who suffered deep physical and psychological harm from the “unfathomable” failure of church officials to protect young people will receive.

None of their abusers will be brought to justice by the legal system. Some, including the longtime pastor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Newman Center connected to most of the abuse cases in Lincoln, are dead. In most of the remaining cases, the statute of limitations on the crimes has expired, making prosecution impossible.

“The reality that we are unable to prosecute the offenders because of the perpetrator’s death, or as a result of the barrier created by the statute of limitations is beyond frustrating,” the report reads.

That, however, was not the most disturbing finding from the three-year investigation:

“The most troubling finding from this report is the fact that on numerous occasions, when there was an opportunity to bring justice to the victims, those in authority chose to place the reputation of the church above the protection of the children who placed their spiritual care in the hands of those in church authority.”

That moral, ethical and legal failure of church authorities in years past appears to have changed, following nationwide investigations of sexual abuse in the church that revealed similar cover ups of ignoring of reports and moving accused priests and a 2002 national conference that established restrictions and procedures to prevent abuse and its coverup.

Those policies from screening and hiring procedures for new priests to rules for engaging with children have led to a decrease in reports of sexual abuse over the last decade, with four cases in the Lincoln Diocese since 2000.

It is incumbent on the church to maintain those safeguards in perpetuity, immediately report any allegations of abuse, new or old, to legal authorities and be transparent to parishioners and the public and parishioners about any abuse, past or present.

While there is little the state can do to directly address the abuse found in the report, the statue of limitations for alleging sex abuse crimes -- whether committed by priests or others in positions of authority -- can and should be loosened by the Legislature, adding at least some additional protection for those who might be abused in the future.

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North Platte Telegraph. Nov. 14, 2021.

Editorial: Christmas and WWII Canteen will be paired forever

A historical story in Thursday’s Washington Post struck a local chord as Veterans Day recedes and a notable North Platte anniversary approaches.

The war officially ended with Japan’s formal surrender on Sept. 2, 1945. But North Platte’s World War II Canteen — which had served Union Pacific troop trains continuously since Christmas Day 1941 — had seven months’ worth of service left.

It was supposed to be nine.

As exhausted as they surely were, the Canteen’s North Platte volunteer core — not to mention the thousands of Nebraska and northeast Colorado helpers — didn’t want to stop until most of the servicemen and servicewomen had made it home.

Canteen leaders resolved in early January 1946 to stay in operation until June 1, nine months after V-J Day.

They were serving 7,000 to 8,000 troops every day at the U.P. Depot as Washington discharged soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines (and their female counterparts) as quickly as it could.

The Telegraph then reported that more than 1.5 million overseas troops were expected back by April 1.

At the Canteen’s New Year’s pace, five more months surely would be more than enough time for North Platte to greet most of them.

And then ... the pace slowed.

Worried about postwar world crises and cutting troop strength too quickly, President Harry S. Truman ordered the pace of Army demobilization cut in half.

Tens of thousands of service members protested from Kolkata (Calcutta) in India to the Philippines and Hawaii, the Post noted.

Some called it mutiny. But they simply — and understandably — wanted to go home.

Under pressure from service members and families, Washington gave in. The pace of discharges picked up again after mid-January.

But by then, North Platte’s Canteen board had changed its mind: The Canteen would close April 1, two months earlier than planned.

Did Truman’s order to slow demobilization — and possibly the Canteen’s business — encourage their change of heart?

If so, it wasn’t mentioned in Canteen news stories by The Telegraph and the North Platte Daily Bulletin, which merged with this newspaper 75 years ago this month.

Both papers cited more direct reasons.

Volunteer fatigue was finally setting in. The donations that had enabled North Platte to serve an astonishing 6 million service members were slowing down, too.

So Canteen leaders decided to go out “on top” rather than fade away.

But some service members kept coming by on troop trains after April 1. If they hadn’t visited the Canteen before, they missed out.

At least one didn’t hold a grudge. Charles H. Plander of Marshalltown, Iowa, got off a troop train April 2 and found a few “Canteen ladies” picking up items from the vacated depot dining room.

“Don’t feel bad about closing the Canteen,” Plander told them. “You’ve earned enough points for your honorable discharge.”

The women had made a pot of coffee for themselves. They gave it to Plander and 11 other soldiers with him.

Very few who experienced the Canteen miracle remain with us to mark perhaps their last great Canteen anniversary.

It’s welcome news indeed that this year’s 80th anniversary of the Canteen’s Christmas opening also will feature North Platte’s first-ever “Christmas Canteen Festival” at the North Platte Community Playhouse.

It’ll take place Dec. 18, a day after the 80th anniversary of that remarkable day when some 500 North Platte residents, primed to bestow gifts and treats on their National Guardsmen headed west, greeted a troop train only to find a Kansas Guard unit aboard.

Our people didn’t go home. They gave the Kansas soldiers their gifts and goodies — and inspired Rae Wilson, who was there, to rally the town to launch the Canteen a week later.

At 2 p.m. Dec. 18, the historic 1929 Fox Theatre in the Canteen District will host “A Sentimental Musical Journey,” with a North Platte big band playing 1940s swing tunes in honor of that pivotal Dec. 17 mistake. “Whistle Stop Stories,” a production telling about the people of the Canteen, will follow at 7:30 p.m.

Proceeds will go toward the Lincoln County Historical Museum’s planned addition featuring scale replicas of the Canteen room and the U.P. depot’s trainside entrance.

It’s a perfect addition to North Platte’s Christmas season, and a chance to once more remember and thank the surviving players in our entire region’s finest hour.

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