GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 10, 2013

Letter: Censorship scarier than an offensive letter


Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

Most religious followers turn to their sacred texts for spiritual inspiration and guidance.

In nearly every religion, however, there are some who pervert their sacred texts in order to justify their own hateful, narrow-minded beliefs, rooted in fear. Osama bin Laden’s followers interpret the Qur’an to justify their war against the West and the Rev. Slyman, in his column (the Times, Midweek Musings, Wednesday, July 3), interprets the Bible to justify his own apparent homophobia.

But that’s no reason to deny Rev. Slyman his right to have his views published in the Gloucester Daily Times, and I applaud Times Editor Ray Lamont for publishing Rev. Slyman’s letter last Wednesday.

The founders of our country fought very hard to guarantee our freedom of religion, speech and the press. There were, of course, many reasons for their commitment to these three fundamental freedoms. Thomas Jefferson was particularly blunt about it, saying, “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” I agree.

I also find it fitting that the Times chose to publish Rev. Slyman’s letter on July 3, when Gloucester celebrates Independence Day with its Horribles Parade and fireworks display.

Unlike most other countries, we do not celebrate our independence on a day when we won our independence through a battle or a war, or signed a treaty, or formed a government, or elected anybody.

By contrast, we celebrate the day that our founders defiantly declared that the colonies were about to “dissolve the political bands” with Great Britain. On July 4, 1776, we had not won any independence by any means other than by saying so on paper.

We, as a people, hold the power of words on paper in very high esteem and we enjoy more freedom and safety as a result.

Unlike religious extremists in many other countries, I sincerely doubt that Rev. Slyman and his followers have plans to detonate bombs and kill large numbers of people. Perhaps that’s because they live in a country whose government is charged with protecting their right to print their words.

We have nothing to fear from offensive language. To quote Jefferson again, “... we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

Freedom of the press has no value if the press take on the role of censor. On Wednesday, July 3, by refusing the role of censor, the Times helped preserve our freedom — and for that we should all be grateful.

PETER VAN NESS

Gloucester