An update to Nebraska's civics education requirements advanced in the Legislature to the second of three rounds of debate, 42-3, over a last-ditch filibuster Tuesday morning.
Once debate over Sen. Julie Slama's bill (LB399) reached the six-hour threshold for first-round debate, the Peru senator invoked cloture, ending a filibuster attempt led by Sen. Ernie Chambers.
The longtime Omaha senator criticized Slama's bill, an update to a 1949 Americanism law adopted during the Red Scare, as one that "allows for racism to happen in the classroom."
He also said a provision within an Education Committee amendment to LB399 requiring schools to teach "respect for the American flag as a symbol of freedom and the sacrifices of those who secured that freedom" ignored the experiences of African-Americans.
"Every hateful thing that was done against black people was done under the aegis of that flag: slavery, raping black women, selling black people, segregation and discrimination in the military throughout its history," Chambers said.
Last week, Chambers called the American flag a "rag," drawing criticism from other senators, as well as from conservative media outlets. Following those stories were threatening phone calls and emails made to his home and office.
But Chambers stood unbowed Tuesday, reiterating his comments in a fiery floor speech: "A rag is what I call it, and that's what it is."
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Chambers referenced journal entries from Winston Churchill regarding segregation in the U.S. armed forces during WWII, and from Frederick Douglass' "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July" during his brief remarks before cloture was invoked.
Fellow Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt also once again voiced her opposition to the bill, saying she disagreed with legislating patriotism for Nebraska's youth.
"Students have a right to curriculum that is designed on academic grounds and historical grounds by educators rather than a curriculum designed in statute to manipulate their beliefs," Hunt said. "Compulsory patriotism is just un-American."
Slama's motion to end debate gained 42 votes — Chambers, Hunt and Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne voted against — more than the 33 needed.
Once debate ended, the Legislature rolled several amendments into LB399, including one from the Education Committee broadening the requirements Nebraska students must complete before graduating from high school.
The changes include either requiring students to take the naturalization exam given by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to attend a public meeting and write a report about it, or to complete a research paper or project about a person or event from American history.
Slama will likely need to defeat two more filibusters to send her bill to Gov. Pete Ricketts' desk to be signed.