Editorial: Free Speech For Everyone, Whether We Like Them or Not By BECKY O"MALLEY

Friday March 03, 2006

Several of our valued correspondents, some in this very issue, have written in to complain that the Daily Planet is taking ads from the Church of Scientology. One asks why we’re supporting that organization. Well, first of all, we’re not supporting them, they’re supporting us, in relatively minuscule proportions compared to our costs, it’s true, but still, they’re paying. Another refers to what he considers the harm Scientology might have done, and makes a comparison to cigarette ads, which he assumes we would turn down. We’ve never actually been offered cigarette ads, but yes, we’d probably turn them down. 

What’s the difference? It’s one of grandma’s laws: sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you. We don’t know much about the Church of Scientology, shying away as we do from anything with “Church of” in its name, but we think it operates in the realm of ideas and beliefs for the most part. If papers barred from their pages any advertisers who advocated ideas that some might consider foolish or harmful, there would be many fewer papers.  

One more grandma’s law (apologies to the ACLU for any plagiarism): The best remedy for speech you disagree with is more speech. Anyone out there who objects to ideas advanced by any of our advertisers is free—no, is exhorted—to write in and tell our readers why. We’ve been proud of the spirited debate in these pages about the Berkeley Honda strike. Berkeley Honda might once have been an advertiser; they may or may not still be, but we will always appreciate a variety of points of view on the topic. Cigarette advertising, on the other hand, is trying to convince readers to do something that has been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt to cause them physical harm, unlike scientology or even labor practices. It crosses some invisible line which we see clearly, though some might not. 

While we’re on the subject of religion: We got a press release from something called the Minuteman Project, which quotes its founder Jim Gilchrist complaining about comments made by Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney on immigration. 

The release says that “Gilchrist strongly objected to the Cardinal’s threat to ignore laws passed by Congress with which he disagrees: ‘It discredits the church and brings shame to parishioners to say we are not going to follow the laws of the United States—the most accepting nation on earth. What would happen if every church decided to only follow the laws with which they agreed?’” 

Well, let’s just turn that one on its head. What if every church decided not to follow laws with which they disagreed? We might, for example, have avoided the worst aspects of the Holocaust, since a substantial number of Catholic and Protestant church leaders spoke out, though not nearly vigorously enough, against the laws of Nazi Germany with which they disagreed. What if all U.S. Catholic archbishops, not just Roger Mahoney, counseled their flock not to participate in anything which supported capital punishment, with which the international Catholic Church strongly disagrees? When it comes to abortion and other reproductive rights situations, of course, some might see difficulties with such a practice. But on balance, if Catholics were taught with equal vigor to succor immigrants, to stay clear of capital punishment, and not to take part in abortions, it might add up to a net win for justice.  

In a poignant bit of irony, the most sympathetic and lengthy discussion of Cardinal Mahoney’s stance to be found on the Internet at the time of this writing was in the People’s Weekly World, which says of itself, “We enjoy a special relationship with the Communist Party USA, founded in 1919, and publish its news and views.” Time was when the Catholic Church and especially its American hierarchy was at the forefront of those who were trying to suppress the views of the CPUSA, and now the two are at the same place at the same point in history.  

Is there a lesson to be learned from this? Both groups in our lifetime have had many bad ideas and a few really good ones, and in so far as they managed to put all their beliefs out there for public debate, the weakest ideas have mostly failed and the fittest ones have mostly survived. That’s why it benefits society to keep the public forum for ideas, including news, columns, opinion sections and advertising space in publications like ours, as open as we can make it.  

We find that we are lately getting a truly incredible number of interesting well-written letters on all topics, including Scientology. We’ve finally reached the point that we’re going to have to do something about it. Starting with today’s issue, we’re going to put all the letters we don’t have room for in the print edition into our web edition. The number of print pages we can afford to print is limited by the number of ads we’ve been able to sell for each issue, but it doesn’t cost us much to put extra letters on the web as bonus pages.  

By the way, if you haven’t seen the Daily Planet on the Internet lately, take a look. We can now put images of the entire print paper—photos, cartoons, ads and all—on the website in very readable Acrobat format. This means that, if you want, you can enjoy the whole Daily Planet experience from the comfort of your home. Just go to www.berkeleydailyplanet.com and click on the button that says “The Full Paper PDF” on the left side of the home page.