Empire editorial: Catching up on the mail

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2003

The lively activity on our opinion page this past week is testament that our constitutional right to free speech is being vigorously exercised, at least here in Juneau.

Many of the letters to the editor were submitted in response to two thought-provoking commentaries that took strong positions.

One editorial was critical of Sen. Elton's lone stance against opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration and the other commentary made the case that the CBJ Assembly is not the appropriate place to develop a resolution in opposition to aspects of the Patriot and Homeland Security Acts that might threaten civil liberties.

The many letters published on this page expressed views on a wide range of important, topical subjects such as civil liberty, censorship, freedom, democracy, war, the presidency, foreign policy, national security and oil.

This newspaper has often stated its strong support for free speech, and has consistently demonstrated that it welcomes all opinions equally. The openness that the Empire's printed forum provides is a constructive, informative gauge of what folks in our community are thinking and says a lot about our collective beliefs, principles, morality and sense of ethics.

Some very interesting observations can be drawn from a review of last week's letters. An objective observer might conclude that the concept of free speech is not necessarily a unilateral bargain for some.

A number of letter writers criticized not only the message but also the messenger for expressing an opinion critical of the voting record of Sen. Kim Elton as if Juneau's senator has somehow gained special immunity from criticism.

Sen. Elton has shown spine in taking an unpopular position on an issue critically important to the future of this state, his position to preserve ANWR. Not all of his constituents agree with his position, so he can expect to take some heat on it. He understands this better than anyone.

One writer, a former history 101 teacher, took the messenger to the wood shed for being undemocratic, unfair and unpatriotic for criticizing Sen. Elton. It would seem the history teacher would see censorship as a form of patriotism. Sen. Elton is also a journalist. His legislative newsletter is frequently critical of those he disagrees with. He is within his rights to criticize. He would probably be the first to disagree with the history teacher' characterization.

One letter last week stood out not so much because of what it said but because of the way it was signed. The author presented an eloquent challenge to the Patriot Act but violated university policy by identifying himself as a UAS professor.

The university did not sanction the good professor's opinion as one might easily conclude.

The professor's gaffe also raises some questions about the degree to which his personal political views are being planted in the fertile minds of his students.

Regarding the Patriot Act Resolution now being drafted for consideration by the Assembly, the Assembly should give consideration to the community voices it won't hear.

The people on the front lines of the effort to serve and protect; the Army, National Guard, Coast Guard, police, firefighters, health workers, Forest Service, the NTS workers, Customs and FBI agents. Many of these public servants are offended by the idea of a resolution, but because of their commitment to their jobs and their country, they won't be testifying at meetings.

Another letter writer supported his challenge to the Patriot Act with a good quote from Winston Churchill who said, "Those who would trade a little freedom for a little security will soon find they have neither."

While Sir Winston was instrumental in moving England closer to the ideals of freedom we have long embraced, we must never forget that his forefathers had a different idea about how much freedom we should have.

It took an armed revolution and great human sacrifice to win the freedoms we enjoy today, which include the freedom to express ourselves, engage in peaceful protest and openly criticize our leaders.

Sadly, one misguided, anonymous "peace" advocate felt it necessary to harass an elderly letter writer for expressing a view he didn't like. This cowardly act represents one of the greatest threats to free speech.

Don Smith



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