Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Des Moines Register. July 24, 2021.

Editorial: University of Iowa religious freedom rulings are a promising step toward holding public officials accountable

A court ruling this month took University of Iowa administrators to task for repeatedly violating Christians’ First Amendment rights. The decision has rightly been celebrated for articulating the egregiousness of officials’ choices that singled out Christian student groups and denied them official recognition.

The discrimination was not isolated. InterVarsity, the victor in the most recent ruling, lost its status despite a judge having told UI in an earlier case that it improperly denied members of Business Leaders in Christ their rights to speech and free association. Administrators, bafflingly, interpreted that loss to mean they should closely examine whether the rules of religious groups (and almost no other types of groups) conflicted with UI’s human rights policy and send packing those it found wanting, including InterVarsity.

“The university has a compelling interest in preventing discrimination,” Judge Jonathan Kobes wrote for a unanimous 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel July 16. “But it served that compelling interest by picking and choosing what kind of discrimination was okay. Basically, some RSOs (Registered Student Organizations) at the University of Iowa may discriminate in selecting their leaders and members, but others, mostly religious, may not.”

The outcomes of these cases are themselves an important vindication of religious freedom. But one principle laid out by two 8th Circuit panels could be just as significant: Judges should not let off the hook public servants who obviously and cavalierly mistreat people.

Throughout the nation, blatant abuses of power go unpunished when bad actors are deemed to be protected from individual liability by qualified immunity.

That doctrine recognizes — often reasonably — that public officials with duties as diverse as university presidents and prison guards have to make judgment calls in complex circumstances where the legally correct outcome might not be obvious. Qualified immunity prevents lawsuits against many public employees from proceeding — even if victims’ rights were indisputably violated — unless courts determine that, before the violation, it had already been “clearly established” that the manner in which they harmed victims was illegal.

Criticism of qualified immunity has grown in recent years, particularly in the context of law enforcement, where officers who use excessive force or abuse inmates end up beyond the reach of justice. That’s partly because judges have been encouraged to construe “clearly established” to require earlier court cases with nearly identical underlying facts. Last year, an appellate judge’s ruling opened by ticking off 19 tragic outcomes for Black Americans — before granting qualified immunity to an officer who illegally searched another Black man, because none of the earlier circumstances precisely lined up with his.

Iowa legislators, contending it should be painstakingly difficult to hold police officers accountable for abuses, added explicit qualified immunity protections to state law this spring.

In the UI cases, District Judge Stephanie Rose decided that officials who stripped Business Leaders in Christ’s status erred but were nonetheless protected from individual liability. Months later, after InterVarsity and other groups were similarly targeted, Rose decided those doing the targeting had no excuse and could eventually be forced to compensate victims out of their own pockets.

Rose’s distinctions made sense given the deference demanded by qualified immunity precedents. But the Court of Appeals judges should be applauded for putting a foot down, denying qualified immunity in both cases and saying administrators should have known better from the start: “If the law was clearly established when the University discriminated against BLinC, it was clearly established when they did the same thing to InterVarsity,” Kobes wrote.

First of all, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has noted, while there is logic in granting leeway to police’s split-second decisions in dangerous circumstances, it makes little sense to extend the same grace to the drawn-out deliberations of college leaders.

And secondly, victims of breathtaking misconduct should not have to cross their fingers to hope that someone, somewhere, already suffered in the same way as them so that qualified immunity won’t slam shut the courthouse door.

Plaintiffs chose not to pursue individual damages in the first UI case; further proceedings will determine how much Melissa Shivers, William R. Nelson and Andrew Kutcher owe in the InterVarsity debacle.

Far more important than the amounts is turning the tide against immunity for reckless actions that take away Americans’ rights.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. July 21, 2021.

Editorial: Black heritage project to bring more accurate history to life

Folks who grew up in the Dubuque area could probably tell you a little about the community’s history.

Most would know something about French Canadian Julien Dubuque and his friendship with Meskwaki Chief Peosta. They would have a decent idea of how lead mined from local terrain was heated and dropped from the top of the historic Shot Tower, forming it into perfect spheres as it fell before cooling in the water below. They might know something about which churches were frequented primarily by German Catholics and which were by Irish Catholics.

Many locals would know some of Dubuque’s historic figures — often because of the places named for them. People such as Mathias Ham, Louis Murphy, Bishop Loras, Mother Mary Frances Clarke and Samuel Mazzuchelli have a place in Dubuque’s origin stories.

However, most people would be harder pressed to talk about what the first Black church in Dubuque was like. Few know stories of Black neighborhoods and the folks who populated them. When did Black families first settle in Dubuque? Where did they live? What did they do? How were they treated? What contributions did they make to the community?

Even Dubuque natives who grew up with a good dose of local history might not be able to answer most or any of those questions. While local historians have some of that information, there’s undoubtedly much more about early cultural relations that are still unknown.

Dubuque city officials are prepared to change that and to unlock some of those hidden stories. Consultants and community members will conduct a historical resource survey of Black community life in Dubuque, the first of its kind overseen by the city. City Council members on Monday approved the terms of a $30,000 state grant to finance Dubuque’s Black Heritage Survey and the disbursement of matching funds and in-kind resources valued at about $19,000.

It’s an important step. The project will include the creation of a heritage database and a record of historically significant figures and sites from the period that begins with Dubuque’s incorporation in 1833 to 1980.

Make no mistake, there will be naysayers about the project. Some will roll their eyes and wonder if this is a good use of public money.

Those will, no doubt, be people who do not know what it is like to learn about history without ever hearing about a person who looks like them. They will not relate to an individual who has no understanding of what daily life was like for Black Americans a century ago. They will not have had the experience of rarely seeing an edifice, building or public space named for someone of their race.

Stories and contributions of people of color were marginalized or entirely untold for centuries. Consider Capt. Robert L. Martin, a Dubuque native and distinguished member of the Tuskegee Airmen. How many people in Dubuque had ever heard of Martin before his story was brought to light in recent years? How many more great Americans have had their legacy overlooked for decades?

To learn about Dubuque’s cultural history and Black heritage will help citizens better understand our society today. This effort to unearth and retell some of our collective story without excluding the contributions of any group will make it a much more vibrant and accurate picture of history.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. July 21, 2021.

Editorial: Floyd is not just a pig. Famous porker is the symbol of a long-time football rivalry

Before he was famous, the pig who would be known as Floyd of Rosedale was just another hog waddling around a farm east of Fort Dodge.

Then there was a high profile college football game. Not long after the final whistle blew on that game, the governor of Iowa took Floyd to Minnesota and the once unknown porker became a legend that continues to this day.

The origin of the Floyd of Rosedale tradition can be traced to a 1934 game between the University of Iowa and the University of Minnesota. All-American running back Ozzie Simmons, one of the few black players in major college football at the time, was a Hawkeye. The Minnesota players singled him out for some brutal hits on the way to winning the game.

In the runup to the 1935 game between the two rivals, Hawkeye fans were boiling with anger and Iowa Gov. Clyde Herring suggested that the fans would take action if the referees didn’t put an end to the attacks on Simmons. To cool things down, Minnesota Gov. Floyd Olson bet Herring a live hog on the outcome of the game.

Minnesota won the game, 13-6. But by all accounts, it was a clean game and the players from both schools complimented each other after it was over.

Herring, however, had to pay up. He turned to Allen Loomis, the owner of Rosedale Farms just east of Fort Dodge, for a hog. He named the pig Floyd in honor of the Minnesota governor.

University of Iowa fans have for years seen triumphant Hawkeye football players carrying a hefty statue of Floyd of Rosedale any time they defeated the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers in the annual game between the two rivals. But few know the origin of Floyd of Rosedale or that he came from Fort Dodge.

There is no excuse for not knowing that now.

A giant steel rendition of Floyd now stands at the roundabout intersection of 10th Avenue North and 32nd Street, not far from the site of the Rosedale farm.

Bringing the story of Floyd of Rosedale to Fort Dodge in such a visible way was the vision of City Councilman Dave Flattery, who has worked on the concept since at least 2019.

He has been assisted by a group that includes Councilman Terry Moehnke, Shelly Bottorff, executive director of the Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association; Jennifer Dutcher, art program coordinator at Iowa Central Community College, Scott Johnson, president of Kallin-Johnson Monument Co. Inc.; Carissa Harvey, the city’s strategic planner; and Jim Kersten, vice president of government relations and external affairs at Iowa Central.

Dale Merrill, of Mount Vernon, created the sculpture. It was hoisted into place Tuesday afternoon.

This tribute to Floyd of Rosedale was created without spending any of the taxpayer’s money.

We appreciate the hard work that Flattery put in to make this a reality.

We encourage everyone to check out Floyd of Rosedale.

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