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Sun should support free speech

7:30 AM EDT, April 18, 2013

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The positions The Sun's writers have taken recently with regard to free expression have not fulfilled its higher calling to support these paramount values.

First, the essential theme of the Sun's April 3 article about Towson University and the white student union ("Towson U. fights back against negative attention") was that the university needed to apologize for not interfering with the attempts of certain students to form a white student union. But the university should have been commended, not condemned, for taking a principled stand in allowing unpopular speech, weak-kneed though its support may have been.

Second, Kevin Cowherd in his April 11 article ("Tigers' new cage is all the rage") reprised the same theme: the university "has been in the news for all the wrong reasons," i.e., because of the "knuckleheads" who attempted to form a white student union. But if advocating free expression for unpopular speech by "knuckleheads" "makes news for the wrong reasons," then Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and many other distinguished figures in our history made news for the wrong reasons, repeatedly. Perhaps they should have just kept quiet and talked only about sports, as Mr. Cowherd apparently thinks is the wiser course.

Third, in the April 13 editorial on Dr. Ben Carson, the Sun argues that Dr. Carson's First Amendment rights were not infringed by the pressure that may (or may not) have been imposed on him to withdraw as the Johns Hopkins University Medical School's commencement speaker ("The price of free speech"). That is true, strictly speaking.

But the larger truth is that the First Amendment derives from cultural and religious values that respect dissident views and that without those cultural values mere laws will wither and die. We should give a forum to those with whom we disagree. In this regard, one wonders what criteria Hopkins will now impose in selecting Dr. Carson's replacement. Perhaps: (1) please don't say anything controversial, and (2) check everything you said anywhere in the last 10 years to see if it might have offended anyone.

Have we really become such hypersensitive souls that we cannot bear even to listen to someone with whose views we strongly disagree?

The Sun should bear in mind that the First Amendment protects not only unpopular actors such as the Towson white student union but freedom of the press. If The Sun poisons the tree of liberty, it not only betrays its higher calling but harms itself.

Glen Allen, Baltimore

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