The June 4 commentary by Edward J. Cleary on protection of free speech over righteous censorship (“Tending the flame of freedom” ) was outstanding. It presented multiple strong arguments why we must be tolerant of and open to listening to the words of others, even if those words significantly differ from our own beliefs. The commentary was replete with good advice, too many points to adequately re-articulate here. One important focus was on speech code, the protection some seek/demand from thoughts and ideas adverse to their own. Sustaining such a closed environment reinforces a narrow-minded and self-centered populace.
Consider three recent news trends: students turning their backs on or walking out on commencement speakers, constituents shouting at public representatives at open public meetings, and anything to do with President Donald Trump. In each situation, individuals demand the right to voice or act out their opinion, but deny their opponents their equal right to express their own opinion. It is no wonder that our elected representatives are so ineffective. They are simply reflecting the narrow-mindedness of their constituents. Maintenance of free speech, no matter whether one agrees or disagrees, is the basis of democracy. When one denies free speech to others, or refuses to listen, that represents the beginning of the demise of democracy. Democracy provides each of us the right to our own opinions, but it does not provide the right to suppress the opinions of others.
Thomas P. Moyer, Golden Valley
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Issues related to free speech and the open exchange of ideas are especially important to me, since I had the privilege of serving on the faculty of three colleges for 35 years. Institutions and their employees have many obligations, but primary among them are two guiding principles: First, encourage and protect free speech and the open exchange of ideas. Next, avoid the abuse of authority through inappropriate advocacy or limitation of ideas both inside and outside of the classroom.
During a discussion about free speech in public schools, a proudly conservative student made a negative comment about the American Civil Liberties Union. He believed that the ACLU was a liberal organization that supported political correctness in limiting free speech. While not identifying myself as having been a member of the ACLU since 1975, I suggested that he review carefully the positions of the ACLU and then offered what I believe is a vital perspective. Protection of human rights and civil liberties is not a liberal-vs.-conservative conflict and never should be viewed through a partisan political lens. The student dropped by my office later and acknowledged that after doing some research he had a better understanding and appreciation for the ACLU and similar advocacy groups.
Beyond the confines of higher education, each citizen must be an advocate for the principles of human rights and civil liberties embedded in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The welfare of our democracy depends on that commitment.
Phil George, Lakeville
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Regarding Cleary’s commentary, the question is not so much about protecting free speech, though this of course is important. The question is rather whether or not an action is being tolerated or a forum being provided for those advocating or even supporting any form of violence against individuals or groups with whom they disagree.
Kai Laybourn, Bloomington
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Recent letters have misunderstood the meaning of free speech. The right of free speech is derived from the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says, “Congress [and by extension, the states] shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” That means that I can stand on the public sidewalk and say any fool thing I like without having to fear being arrested for the content of what I say. It does not mean that your organization, whether public or private, has to invite me to speak to them. So, if I believe cancer can be cured by drinking goat’s milk, the University of Minnesota Medical School is free to refuse my request to address their students. I’ll have to settle for speaking from the sidewalk, or handing out fliers.
College students can expect their schools to invite speakers who will encourage them to make the world a better place. Advocates of the goat’s milk theory do not. Neither do racists. Similarly, the Walker Art Center can reasonably be expected to display only works that correspond to whatever is their definition of good art (which might well include that it inspires us and brings out the best in human nature). If the folks at the Walker learn that they made a mistake in admitting a work, they have the right to return it to the artist, who has the right to destroy it. None of this infringes on anyone’s right to free speech. And we all have the duty to use our words carefully to promote truth and reason. That’s not self-censorship. It’s just good editing.
David Weisberg, Minneapolis
The double-chin treatment vs. starving people in Africa
I was unusually jarred by the juxtaposition of the article about medical treatment of double chins on Page A1 of Sunday’s paper “Generation selfie takes it on the chin” and the article regarding the United Nations request for funding for food programs to address famine in Africa on Page A4 of the same paper (“U.N call to feed the starving falls short”).
Each year, Americans pay $15 billion for plastic aesthetic procedures, including medications and surgeries. The article in the Star Tribune notes that the cosmetic procedure to treat double chins is especially popular with Generation Xers and Generation Nexters. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery has an article on its website asking: “Is plastic surgery the new graduation gift?” The most common graduation cosmetic procedure gifts include treatment for double chins or “stubborn body bulge,” breast augmentations or reductions, nose jobs and treatment for acne scars.
According to the Star Tribune, this year the U.N. has received pledges of $2.2 billion of the $6.1 billion requested, or about one-third of the funding needed to feed people suffering from famines in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen. The World Food Program in Nigeria has to make moral choices about whom to feed and whom to abandon. Only the most severely affected people in Nigeria can receive aid with the current funding. Half a million of the 1.8 million Nigerians with food insecurity will not receive food aid. There will be ongoing deaths due to starvation in Africa.
I am saddened that the Star Tribune felt that the article regarding food aid was less important than the article about a cosmetic procedure.
I would like to think that the young people who are working to improve their appearance are also working to make the world a better place. I have hope that we can enjoy our great abundance in this country without forgetting to share with others who aren’t as fortunate as we are. Think about giving a gift of a donation to help prevent hunger for the new graduation gift.
Tina Martin, Minneapolis
Most accurate statement I have seen on the Comey testimony:
“Breaking news: Comey testimony confirms that everyone hears exactly what they wanted to hear!”
Joe Kucala, Plymouth