Fight the fear of free speech

Fight the fear of free speech

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Illustrated by André Casey // theTorch
André Casey / The Torch

It is helpful to have a curious mind when you are trying to learn the skills to run a newsroom in a span of three months. Between workshops, seminars and talking to news managers across the country, I discovered something that gives me hope: truth always prevails.

This may be hard to believe given the endless stories of deceit in the media the past few months. Whether it’s the Ashley Madison leak revealing the identities of men secretly seeking extramarital affairs; the email scandal plaguing presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton; or the recent Volkswagen fiasco where a device intending to cheat emissions tests was discovered to affect 11 million cars worldwide. There is no shortage of attempted trickery in the world.

It’s likely that you heard about these events from a large news organization, such as the Huffington Post or the New York Times. Or perhaps in a local news outlet such as the Oregonian or the Register Guard. Behind all of these companies sit journalists, most of whom use their right of free speech to seek truth.

Alas, truth is hard to find and often not easy to swallow. People throw opinions back and forth, each one seeking to disempower the other.

A publisher once issued an editorial “apologizing” for newsprinters after receiving boycott threats due to a publication deemed offensive. I was drawn to one line in particular:

“Printers are educated in the Belief that when Men differ in Opinion, both Sides ought equally to have the Advantage of being heard by the Publick; and that when Truth and Error have fair Play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter.”
— Benjamin Franklin
The Pennsylvania Gazette
June 10, 1731

In other words, if people are allowed to publicly share their opinions regardless of the content, truth will always prevail.

This ideal is embodied in the First Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights, which protects five rights deemed essential to Democracy: freedom of speech, religion, press, protest and petition. Yet too often people interpret this to mean that they can act in ways that silence others.

An example from the University of Oregon back in March of 2015 had students destroying a pro-life activist’s graphic poster of an aborted fetus, effectively censoring the activist and preventing any meaningful dialogue from taking place.

However distasteful and obscene the image was, the pro-life activist had just as much right to share their opinion as the students who were offended. An Oregon Supreme court ruling in 1987 protects all forms of speech, even if it is considered to be generally or universally obscene.

This trend of students seeking to exercise their own version of the First Amendment is getting attention. Our current president, Barack Obama, has been making rounds on social media after having shared his views regarding attempts on college campuses to silence speakers and ban books.

“I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of views,” Obama said in a town hall meeting in Des Moines, Iowa on Sept. 14, 2015.

Elsewhere in the meeting Obama states how college is not just about acquiring skills. It’s about opening people to new ideas, creating better citizens and helping them navigate the world. He goes on to say that, “the way to do that is to create a space where a lot of ideas are presented and collide, and people are having arguments, and people are testing each other’s theories, and over time, people learn from each other.”

That is what Lane should be and what I hope the Torch will be this year. A space to bring together different viewpoints of the world and talk about them openly — bringing the opinions of the Lane community into the light to examine them with reason and logic.

Let us respectfully disagree and be open to hearing an idea that challenges our existing worldview. Compassion for our fellow humans will only bring civility back to civilization.

Have these discussions in your classrooms and study groups, and also have them in your student newspaper. During my interview for the editorship of the Torch I said that a news organization is meant to be an information source and a platform for ideas.

I still believe that and will strive to ensure content in the Torch is as accurate and balanced as possible. But in the end, a student news organization needs student voices. Whether it is students in the newsroom hunting the interesting stories across campus, or students sending in their opinions and telling their stories. Our student newspaper should involve active participation from the student body if it to accurately represent the wonderfully unique community that is Lane Community College.

 

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