Ernie Chambers

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Ernest (Ernie) W. Chambers (10 July 1937 - )

Chambers, who was born in Omaha, Nebraska, graduated from Omaha Central High School. He attended the Creighton University School of Law but is not a member of the bar nor does he practice law.

Elected to the office of State Senator in 1970, Chambers is a civil rights activist, an African American leader, and a barber.

Mother Jones has described him as being "the maverick of Omaha," and he also has been called "the angriest black man in Nebraska" as well as a "defender of the downtrodden." Reporter Sara Catania wrote,

  • He wears sweatshirts and jeans amid a forest of suits and ties; his gray beard contrasts with the clean chins of most of his brethren. He's been described as "left of San Francisco" in a state that for decades has been tightly tucked under the blanket of conservative Republicanism. . . . Because of Chambers, the Legislature routinely backs bills its members wouldn't otherwise have dreamed of supporting. He cajoled his colleagues into abolishing corporal punishment in schools, correcting the state pension system so that women would be treated equally with men, and backing a switch from at-large municipal elections to district-based voting so that nonwhites would have a chance to serve. Under his sway, Nebraska led the nation in the 1980s in divesting in companies that did business with apartheid-era South Africa.

In September 2007, Chambers sued God:

  • Chambers lawsuit, which was filed on Friday in Douglas County Court "since the Defendant is omnipresent," seeks a permanent injunction ordering God to cease certain harmful activities and the making of terroristic threats. The lawsuit admits God goes by all sorts of alias, names, titles, and designations.
  • In the lawsuit, Chambers said he's tried to contact God numerous times. . . [The lawsuit] says God has caused "fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues, ferocious famines, devastating droughts, genocidal wars, birth defects and the like." The suit also says God has caused "calamitous catastrophes resulting in the wide-spread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants including innocent babes, infants, children, the aged and infirm without mercy or distinction." Chambers also says God "has manifested neither compassion nor remorse, proclaiming that defendant will laugh" when calamity comes.

"As an elected official, I know the difference between theology and politics," said Senator Chambers. "My interest is in legislation, not salvation." Freedom From Religion Foundation has interviewed him for a podcast. FFRF honored him in 2005 as a "Hero of the First Amendment" for taking Marsh v. Chambers to the Supreme Court, challenging paid legislative prayers.

Chambers, the senior senator of Nebraska's unicameral legislature, was forced in 2008 to step down because of the state's term limits law. Wrote reporter Susan Saulny,

  • “I have to remind people as they show great sadness that I’m not dying, I’m just getting out of the Legislature,” said the senator, Ernie Chambers, 70. “But a lot of people are going to be very happy when my absolute last day arrives. In fact, there will probably be so much joy in this corner of the world that it will be picked up on the Richter scale. I’m not liked at all.”
  • Liked or not, Mr. Chambers, a black, divorced, agnostic former barber from Omaha with posters of Malcolm X and Frederick Douglass decorating his office, managed to rise to an ultimate level of power in a mostly rural, white conservative state on little more than sheer determination to do so.
  • In many ways, he could be the model of the antipolitician: he does not like coalition-building, negotiating or even socializing. He belittles and berates his colleagues. His office does not use call waiting. His name is not on his locked door in the majestic Capitol building here, and visitors have been known to pound their fists numb trying to get an audience.
  • And he refuses to wear anything more formal than his Levi’s.

In 2008, a in Nebraska judge threw out the lawsuit by State Senator Chambers against God because the defendant was not served a legal notice. "Given that this court finds that there can never be service effectuated on the named defendant this action will be dismissed with prejudice," wrote Douglas County District Court Judge Marlon Polk. Chambers said he filed the lawsuit to make the point that everyone should have access to the courts regardless of whether they are poor or rich, according to the 16 October 2008 Associated Press report.