Hate speech. Free speech. Are they different or are they the same? Who decides? Should we publish letters that can be interpreted as hate speech?
This has become a very hot-button topic at the News, long before Kenyon College’s Center for the Study of American Democracy hosted its biennial conference last week on “Free Speech, Civil Discourse.”
I was excited for the conference in hopes that maybe some of these questions would be answered and I could bring some solid information to our Editorial Board regarding our letter policy.
Even after attending conference discussions, and watching some online, the truth of the matter is, the line between hate speech and free speech is pretty clear. It is so clear in fact, that it really doesn’t exist.
On the simplest of levels, there is no such thing as hate speech — free speech is just free speech. What makes speech unprotected by the first amendment is an immediate incitement for violence. What makes free speech hate speech is interpretation.
What one person might interpret as hateful, another might not see as derogatory, and vice versa. So who decides what’s hateful and what’s not? Conference panelists couldn’t answer that question and neither can we.
To sit back and believe we live in a vacuum where we all share the same opinions and ideologies is irresponsible for a newspaper. It is not our position to judge someone’s belief system, nor is it our responsibility to shield our readers from those beliefs.
The beauty of the letter to the editor forum is that it opens the door for readers to respond to a letter they don’t agree with and create a dialogue. Just this weekend I received a very eloquent letter questioning our decision to publish a letter Friday from a Fredericktown resident the email writer labeled a “racist rant.” Her response was not intended for publication; however, she very succinctly — and civilly — voiced her opinion to Friday’s letter. It is a shame I cannot share her response with our readers.
At this time, we have no intention of censoring letters to the editor. We will, however, maintain that they be civil and not address or target specific individuals. As always, we have the right to reject any letter.
Letters to the editor were designed to provide a forum for the public to voice their thoughts and opinions. We want to maintain that forum and be open to the concept that we are a nation of differing viewpoints that fall under our rights to free speech.
Samantha Scoles is the managing editor of the News, and can be reached at 740-397-5333, ext. 248; or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.