Opinion | Paul Olson: Diversity of opinion benefits us all | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Paul Olson: Diversity of opinion benefits us all

Paul Olson
A Friendly Conservative

I enjoy reading the letters to the editor in the Summit Daily News. I appreciate when a writer can enlighten me on a local issue while also being entertaining. I’m not fond of angry letters; a civil style is more persuasive. I prefer short and sweet; I only have a 200-word attention span.

What I like most about the letters is how they demonstrate freedom of speech in action. It may be frustrating to read opinions in the Summit Daily that differ greatly from your own views, but consider the sobering alternative of living in a country such as Russia, China or Cuba, where conformity is the standard and voicing your differences with government policy is dangerous.

In his book “American Creation,” Joseph Ellis wrote that one of the major accomplishments of our nation’s founders was that “they created political parties as institutionalized channels for ongoing political debate.” Dissent toward government policies became a normal part of reaching consensus on various issues. I suggest taking a positive view of the differences of opinion you see in the news.

One of the strengths of our country is diversity. We have a variety of religions, ethnic groups and regional cultures, and a spectrum of opinions on every topic. Self-education comes from reflecting upon our current beliefs and seeking out new and accurate evidence. Without free speech, our sources of information are limited, and everyone is worse off.

There are many misconceptions about free speech. The Bill of Rights restricts the government from passing laws to hinder a free press and freedom of speech. Can the Summit Daily refuse to print your letter to the editor? Yes, they are a private business and can set their own policies.

Twitter and Facebook also set their own policies on what they allow. Do you have freedom of speech at work? Private companies can set their own rules for employee conduct. Speaking unfavorably about your employer can get you fired. It is not protected speech.

There is plenty of “bad speech” out there — con artists who spread misinformation for profit, higher ratings or political gain. There will be calls for legislation to ban hate speech and media lies, but it is better to counter bad speech with more speech, better speech. Laws restricting speech have generally been ruled unconstitutional in U.S. courts. Hate speech restrictions in Europe have often proved difficult to enforce and sometimes result in restricting the speech of the groups that were meant to be protected.

When I started watching the evening news in the 1960s, there were three choices: ABC, CBS and NBC. They were each thorough in their efforts to report all the important news and to be accurate and unbiased. They do the same today. Everyone fortunately has the freedom to listen skeptically and seek out news sites that are reliable and have minimal bias.

I hope you have noticed how well the Summit Daily covers local news, from high school sports to controversial issues. The reporters work diligently to give us important and reliable news. Commentary and readers’ letters reflect conservative to liberal views. You not only get the free press promised by the Constitution, but you get a free paper.

People often take for granted that we have freedom of speech in America. There is an old Soviet joke that sums up how fortunate we are. An American and a Russian are debating free speech:

American: “In America, I have the right to say that our president’s policies are wrong.”

Russian: “It is the same in Russia. I can also say that your president’s policies are wrong.”

Take pride in America’s freedom of speech that we encounter each day in the local newspaper, the neighborhood coffee shop and in the national media. Diversity of opinion has been an important strength of our nation throughout our history. Enjoy this freedom, but be prudent. As Oscar Wilde said, “I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.”

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