Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 4:00 PM on Wednesday, March 21, 2012

We need to defend each other's rights


One characteristic of a strong democracy is that it allows for the free exchange of ideas. People don't have to think alike; they don't even have to pretend to think alike. And while life certainly might be a little more comfortable if everyone shared the same views, it certainly would be a lot less interesting. The tension that comes from diverse viewpoints helps move us in different directions.

There's a whole host of issues that come to mind that have bitterly divided this country — slavery, civil rights come immediately to mind — but because some people were brave enough to speak out and educate others about systemic injustices, a shift in our collective thinking occurred. That shift in thinking moved us to a better place.

Our nation so values free speech that it's guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The language can be inappropriate. The thought expressed can be reprehensible. But each of us has the right to say whatever we want.

But that doesn't mean our words don't have consequences — and that's where balancing our rights with our responsibilities gets tricky.

Recently radio personality Rush Limbaugh made some on-air comments that some listeners found offensive and inappropriate. He apologized, but some people think that's not enough. On the other side, Limbaugh supporters wonder how HBO talk show host Bill Maher can be equally nasty and barely raise a public eyebrow.

On the southern peninsula, some are asking that Limbaugh be replaced with a different conservative voice. That's their right. It's also one of the great traditions of this country — if you don't like something, then you try to peacefully change it. They've approached the Homer News about purchasing an ad with their message. Others are telling the Homer News if they run the ad that they'll never buy the newspaper again.

What's a newspaper to do?

The Homer News will run the ad.

And if you're a Limbaugh supporter, we'd be happy to run your ad, too. And if you don't want to pay for an ad, you can write a letter to the editor expressing your viewpoint — whatever it is. Just keep in mind, it needs to be short and it needs to be appropriate for a family newspaper. Just as your paid advertisement does.

Limbaugh and Maher have the right to say whatever they want and those who listen to them have the right to object to what they say. With these incredible rights, don't all of us have the responsibility to try and frame our national discussions in a more civil way? Just because we have the right to say whatever we want doesn't mean we should. In fact, maybe more of us should heed the advice we heard recently: "Make the most of every opportunity to keep your mouth shut." Now, wouldn't that make the world a better place?

Nevertheless, while we don't like the tenor of the national dialogue — which is really no dialogue at all — free speech can't be reserved just for the wise, the kind or those who agree with us. All of us need to protect each other's rights if we want to keep our own.