News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Free speech and civility

On October 24, Citizens4Community and The Nugget Newspaper are joining forces to sponsor a forum on the First Amendment. The event will be held at the Sisters Fire Hall and begins at 5:30 p.m.

In anticipation of this public forum, The Nugget has presented a number of reader’s opinion pieces over the past month ranging from robocalls (Pete Shepherd), to “The Attempted Murder of the First Amendment” (Jim Cornelius), the notion of banning of books (Lane Jacobson) and religious liberty (Steve Stratos). Each of the writers — all of whom will be part of a panel discussion in the forum — has offered a unique perspective on the complexities of the first of the 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution: The right to free speech.

Elegant in its simplicity and seemingly clear on its face, the first of our Bill of Rights reads:

“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.”

As history and current events suggest, however, the First Amendment is anything but simple.

Lara Schwartz, director of the Project on Civil Discourse at American University, offers two independent and seemingly unrelated quotes that underscore a core issue the forum will explore relating to our right to free speech — the question of not only what we can say but also what we should say.

•?“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989)

•?“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Dr. Ian Malcolm, “Jurassic Park” (1993)

We invite you to participate in a public dialog exploring, among other things:

•?Do we really have an absolute right to free speech or have we, instead, crafted a system of robust, legally permitted speech?

•?What are various forms of censorship and when, if ever, is censorship necessary and appropriate?

•?Can rules of civility help us define the line between what we can say and what we should say?

•?If there are rules of civility, who decides what they are and how are they enforced?

Please join us on October 24 for a lively discussion of “Where Does Free Speech Begin and ‘Civility’ End”?


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