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Letter: Jonathan Reynolds
Don’t abuse free speech
Friday, December 7, 2012
On Dec. 5, letter writer Rudy Law made a most eloquent case for free speech in response to an earlier appeal by the editor for civility on the Opinion Page. While Law’s point is well taken, I would suggest that there are more points to consider. I do not speak for the Bulletin; I speak as a fellow reader who has noticed a regrettable trend in letters, particularly in the time following the recent presidential election.
The matter at hand is not one of offensiveness, but of civility. There is a difference. Undesirable truths may need to be exposed from time to time, but that can still be done politely and without personal insult. It is possible to speak an ugly truth without including the rudeness that has become unfortunately frequent on the Opinion Page. Even Patrick Henry’s stirring “Liberty or Death” speech, referenced in Law’s letter, is prefaced by a statement that the speaker intends no disrespect. One of Patrick Henry’s opening remarks is as follows: “Different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to [the people who hold different opinions if] I shall speak forth my sentiments … without reserve.”
Yes, freedom of speech is a right. The Opinion Page, however, is a privilege. Newspapers are not required to include one. Abusing that privilege by intentionally insulting other readers is not only irresponsible as a writer; it also weakens the argument the writer may be trying to make. If a writer is unable to make his point without resorting to rudeness or insults, the point probably isn’t very sound to begin with. By the same token, if the writer must refer to rumor, innuendo and dubious sources to support his point, it is not a very reliable point.
One of the best aspects of America, and why freedom of speech is so necessary, is that it has always been a place where people of diverse ideas, opinions and loyalties can exist in harmony with each other. When people abuse the right of free speech by attacking other people, it undermines the very concept of free speech.