By Corey J. Oldenhuis, Nebraska News Service
A non-exhaustive list of freedom of speech issues that came to the fore during protests at the University of Nebraska.
1917-18: ‘Loyalty Trials’
Professors are tried for expressing anti-war statements, which, under the 1917 Sedition Act, were seen as un-American. Chancellor Samuel Avery had signed a petition expressing sympathy for the German cause before U.S. entry to World War I.
Historians believe he intervened as little as possible in the trial for fear of having his loyalty called into question. The Sedition Act was later found to be unconstitutional.
Chancellor Avery denies possibility of a Ku Klux Klan UNL chapter
The Nebraska chapter of the Ku Klux Klan that was allegedly seeking fraternal status at the university denied student rumors, claiming that the Klan was not a young man’s club. However, according to the Daily Nebraskan, their representative also said that the Klan recognized and was proud of its various sympathizers on the campus.
Anti-war protests erupt at UNL after four students are killed at Kent State University in Ohio in an anti-war demonstration. Student activists take over the ROTC building on campus, refusing to leave.
Hundreds of UNL students participate in campus demonstrations but compared to unrest elsewhere, the Lincoln protests are largely peaceful.
1985: ‘Hail Mary’ banned
Famed French director Jean-Luc Godard’s intentionally provocative film about a modern virgin birth draws nationwide criticism. Pope John Paul II claims that it “deeply wounds the religious sentiments of the believer.” Shortly after the film was released, the UNL Theatre planned a viewing.
According to theatre director Dan Ladely, local lawmakers — especially those representing districts with large Catholic populations — pressured the university to act. Ladely says UNL officials gave him an ultimatum: cancel the scheduled viewing or lose his job; he chose the former.
2016: Huskers kneel during national anthem
At the September game versus Northwestern University, Husker football players Michael Rose-Ivey, Mohammed Barry and DaiShon Neal knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality and support NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s initiative.
Rose-Ivey received death threats and reportedly lost stock in the NFL draft market. Regent Hal Daub publicly criticized the gesture, saying that it was an inappropriate platform for free speech.
“It’s a conduct issue, not a free speech issue,” Daub told the Omaha World-Herald. UNL President Hank Bounds defended the players’ right to protest and stated that exercising free speech should not warrant punishment by the university.
2017: Fraternity investigated
In January, members of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity were reported on social media to have made disparaging comments such as “no means yes,” and “grab them by the p*****” — echoing a comment made by presidential candidate Donald Trump — during Lincoln, Nebraska’s, participation in a nationwide women’s march.
The fraternity was later accused of reckless alcohol use and kicked off campus.
Fraternity leaders claimed that the charge was unfair and amounted to punishing the fraternity tangentially without having to evoke free speech issues.