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Coach's remarks draw clarification from UNL chancellor

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OMAHA - Ron Brown's public opposition to an Omaha effort to protect gay and transgender residents from discrimination drew an equally public rebuke from the top official at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Thursday.

UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman criticized the Husker football assistant for failing to clarify that he was not speaking for the university when he testified before the Omaha City Council earlier this week.

"The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska has made it clear that the university does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. And only the board can speak on university policy and practices," Perlman said in a statement. "Several people have written me asking if (Brown's) remarks represent the position of the university. I want to be clear that they do not."

In an interview with The World-Herald, Brown stressed that his comments at Tuesday's hearing represented his personal beliefs.

"However, in light of the context, I didn't think it was necessary and I didn't think it should be assumed that I was representing the university," Brown said.

Brown also questioned whether he would have been criticized if he had testified in support of the anti-discrimination proposal.

"Should every employee from the University of Nebraska have to say that they're not representing the university?" Brown asked. "Would I have been OK if I was on the other side of the coin, in terms of if I was in favor of the proposal?"

This is not the first time Brown's public stances on his religious beliefs have taken center stage.

He serves as a co-director of Mission Nebraska, a Christian-centered nonprofit.

He gained national attention in November when he led an on-field team prayer prior to an emotional football game at Penn State, in the wake of child molestation allegations against a former assistant coach there.

In 2010, the Nebraska director of the American Civil Liberties Union warned school districts about Brown's use of religious themes during motivational speeches to students.

Tuesday, Brown was one of more than 40 opponents who lined up to testify before the City Council during a marathon public hearing.

The council heard hours of testimony on Councilman Ben Gray's proposal to add lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents to the city's list of classes protected from discrimination in employment and public accommodations.

Speakers were asked to state their name and address for the record. Brown listed his address as "One Memorial Stadium" and said the Bible condemns homosexuality as sin.

"The question I have for you, like Pontius Pilate, is: <45>What are you going to do with Jesus?'" Brown said during his remarks. "For those of you on this council who have a relationship with Christ, and only you know if you do, you will be held to great accountability for the decision you make."

University of Nebraska Medical Center researchers testified as proponents during the hearing, but made clear their views did not represent the University of Nebraska.

Said Perlman: "Unfortunately in this instance coach Brown did not make it clear in his comments that he was asserting his personal viewpoint and not representing the university."

Perlman declined to elaborate on his statement.

Among those upset by Brown's remarks was John Carroll, a gay Omaha attorney who holds Nebraska football season tickets.

He criticized Brown's comments in an email addressed to NU Athletic Director Tom Osborne and head football coach Bo Pelini.

"With all that young gay kids are facing today, having Coach Brown stand up in a public forum and call them sinners, made me sick to my stomach," Carroll wrote. "If Mr. Brown insists on exercising his First Amendment rights all the while spewing anti-gay rhetoric and threats of eternal damnation, please have him use his own address in the future."

Osborne, in a reply, said Brown should not have listed his address as One Memorial Stadium and said he had addressed the matter with Brown.

"I can assure you that Ron's comments are reflective of his own views and do not represent those of the Athletic Department or the university," Osborne wrote.

Brown later said he used the stadium's address to ensure that correspondence on the issue reached him there, as opposed to at his personal residence.

"I can see why that could possibly be confusing for people," he said. "I was naive to the process."

Brown said his testimony was motivated by "a much larger issue" than perceived discrimination against gay and transgender persons. He echoed other opponents who argued that amending the local ordinance would force those morally opposed to homosexual activity to accept behavior that contradicts their religious beliefs.

"We don't want to be put in a position where we are going to be penalized for living out what is near and dear to us as people of God," Brown said. "There are certain things that we cannot embrace. We can respect it, we can honor it, we can protect it to the best of our ability, but we don't have to embrace it." 

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