For the past few months, I’ve been laying out The Conway Daily Sun’s Opinion section. This has been a disheartening experience as I’ve had to place columns and letters on the page that are often racist, sexist or homophobic.

I’ve long known and been uncomfortable with the fact that this sort of content is published in the Sun’s Opinion section but actually having to place on the page blatantly bigoted language hit me hard.

It felt as if I were somehow complicit in distributing a message that I morally object to.

But if we were to censor this content, would we be violating the First Amendment and the writers’ right to free speech?

The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The First Amendment prevents the government from censoring individuals or the press. This includes all language, even language we detest. This doesn’t mean a person or publication can’t exercise discretion.

Generally speaking, I choose not to curse in public. This is a personal choice based on social mores, respect and common courtesy. Now, if Congress passed a law banning public cursing, that would be a breach of the First Amendment.

Similarly, if a law were passed stating that no publication could run racist columns — as deplorable as they may be — that also would be a breach of the First Amendment.

This doesn’t mean a publication can’t exercise restraint and choose not to run racist material.

Words have power and meaning. While we have the right to say anything and everything, it doesn’t mean we should. It is important to consider the weight of our words and how they will affect others.

The Sun doesn’t publish overt hate speech, but hate speech isn’t just the use of pejoratives. A more passive form of racism, sexism or homophobia can be far more insidious and arguably more dangerous because it is institutionalized. The denial of systemic racism falls into this category.

In May, Sun OpEd columnist Tom McLaughlin wrote in a column: “The reader may notice that I’m not calling them ‘trans-females’ because I don’t accept that there’s any such thing.”

This statement is transphobic, and while we had every right to publish it, it is important to weigh the impact of those words. It is that sort of language and the denial of one's existence that could make a trans teen suicidal.

So how does publishing racist, sexist or homophobic opinions benefit the community?

One can argue it is important to be aware that people think this way in the valley. You can also argue that there are readers in the community who share those views, and that by not publishing those perspectives, a large segment of the readership is ignored.

But is it worth marginalizing whole groups of people to pander to misinformed people with close-minded, antiquated views?

Yes, there are people in this community who think the same way as someone like McLaughlin, but instead of reinforcing that belief, In feel we should be working to inform the public and to shape the debate.

The other argument for publishing this sort of incendiary material is that its removal represents a biased, one-sided perspective. I certainly don’t want to silence contrasting points of view, but they add no value to the discussion if they are racist, sexist or homophobic.

Freedom of the press doesn’t mean having to publish everything. A newspaper choosing not to act as a platform for bigotry, ignorance and misinformation is not a breach of the First Amendment. As Sacha Baron Cohen said last November, “Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach.”

Tom McLaughlin did not submit a column this week. Alec Kerr is the arts and community editor at The Conway Daily Sun.

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(11) comments

Trovegalleries

Sorry about the typos ... there were 4 people in the car . Just wish I had been able to get the license plate number. Definitely gave the girls something to talk about and remember.

(Edited by staff.)

Trovegalleries

Ok this just happened .... 230 Sunday walking over covered bridge with my girls ages 7 & 9 a car With New Hampshire plates slows down to take the time to scream at us “ f### you ! You stood F###ing c###s from mass !” Very classy taking the time to yell that at a 7 & 9 year . I suspect the we’re driving around town doing the same to others. Is that hate speech?

Ps . We’re not from mass , I went to fryburg academy, not that it matters .

Canon Dan Weir

An expansive view of free speech has infected many discussions of the freedom of private institutions, including news media, to decide what will be allowed. You are free to pretty much whatever you want on the street but not in my house. I see a disturbing trend towards lumping all of us in the Black Lives Matter movement with those who hold extreme political views. The movement is diverse and the one common believe is that it’s high time for us to address the reasons that Black lives continue to matter less than White lives in America. The Constitution spoke of a more perfect union and we still have work to do.

RetVet

Canon,

You are either woefully misinformed or trying to mislead the readers about BLM.

They are unapologetically Marxist in their philosophy and their agenda is to tear down the foundational principle of our country.

They are as racist in their belief systems as those they would call out as being racists.

You don't need to look very deeply to find this information. It on the web, in social media, and in public display at the "protests".

Please stop lying to the readers or fooling yourself.

Randel

Your opinion about BLM is a gross exaggeration. Surely there are Marxists in the movement just like there are fascists and racists in the republican party. There are many elected officials that support the BLM movement. Senator Romney even marched with them.

Sun Reader

RetVet -- You wrote ". . .“systematic racism”, or the other new terminology being forced on us without any dialogue or debate." if you think "systematic" is the same thing as "systemic" then you have misunderstood the term, "systemic racism". If you do know the difference between the two words, and systematic was just a typo, then you are denying an extremely important part of this country's history. Anyone who denies the validity of the systemic racism that has helped define who we are as Americans is, well, in denial. I suggest a visit to the Equal Justice Initiative to give you a good place to begin your understanding of what is going on in today's discussion of racism in this country.

RetVet

Yes, it was in fact a typo. I meant systemic. And yes, there is no denying the part that racism has played in the formation of our history. But, unless there is a willingness to have an open and honest discussion about where we were and where we are going, nothing will be resolved.

Instead, what we are witnessing is a political movement that has hijacked the conversation about racism and morphed it into a Marxist/Fascist style mob takeover. Tearing down all that represents this country’s history, good, bad or otherwise. All done in the name of, “Fundamentally Transforming” our country. But they never say what they are transforming it into.

This movement has no desire to debate, reason or consider. They shut down any dissent by shouting down, or outright “cancelling” your very existence. Or calling you “Racist”, or telling you about your “Privilege”, or “Fragility”.

The issues that need to addressed are very real, but also multifaceted and complex. Not the least of which are the well-intentioned but misguided Democratic policies of the last 50 years. As they say, Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan. Tearing down and destroying our country in the name of change is certainly not a solution. It is quite the opposite.

Jay

RetVet 👏

Ebenne

Yes you do have a right to free speech even if that includes racist or hate speech. But a newspaper is not required or does not have to sensationalize said hate speech. Especially from a paid contributor to that newspaper. If you are so inclined to share your thoughts then stand up in public so everyone can see who you are instead of hiding behind a username.

RetVet

“The other argument for publishing this sort of incendiary material is that its removal represents a biased, one-sided perspective. I certainly don’t want to silence contrasting points of view, but they add no value to the discussion if they are racist, sexist or homophobic.”

And that is just another way of censoring speech (thought). Your opinion is just that, yours.

Just because you declare a thing so, doesn’t make it so. Many people would debate the merit of your perspective on many different levels. Not the least of which could be their religious or moral beliefs. That doesn’t constitute “hate speech”. It is an opposing point of view.

The same can be argued over the idea of “systematic racism”, or the other new terminology being forced on us without any dialogue or debate.

Yes, your very argument is truly one-sided, presumptive, and not in keeping with the free presses' basic responsibility to its readers.

If this trend in the media continues there will only be one side, one thought, and one voice. This is nothing but “group think” disguised as a free press.

The press's job is to inform, not shape opinion.

And as usual, I don’t expect you to publish this opposing opinion because it does meet with your narrative. Again, that is direct censorship.

matthew999

RetVet - I could not have said it better. There is a growing population of Americans that believe "hate speech" is defined as any speech that judging individual hates.

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