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Editorial: A free press, not a free-for-all

The First Amendment protects people's right to say hateful things — including hurtful and false words about minorities, religious groups, men, women and more. We call that freedom of speech.

As long as such incendiary words aren't spoken in a setting that evokes violence, just about anything goes, as courts have confirmed over the years.

But just because someone has the right to say something doesn't mean that person has a right to have those thoughts published on this page.

The First Amendment also gives newspapers the right to refuse letters to the editor and advertisements. We call that freedom of the press.

As the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1974, "A newspaper is more than a passive receptacle or conduit for news, comment, and advertising. The choice of material to go into a newspaper, and the decisions made as to limitations on the size and content of the paper, and treatment of public issues and public officials — whether fair or unfair — constitute the exercise of editorial control and judgment."

We believe that the First Amendment comes with certain responsibilities. One of those is promoting an atmosphere of respectful disagreement and dialogue. Another is bringing to light the hateful thoughts and attitudes in our community.

Sometimes those responsibilities are at odds. Does explicit expression of Islamophobia, for example, perpetuate and promote prejudice? If people aren't forced to face racism, bigotry and hate, how can they combat them?

Across the country and unfortunately close to home, there is a growing movement to cultivate fear and hate — and not public discourse. Targets include Muslims, undocumented workers and immigrants. These people are not the root of all America's troubles, just as Jews were not the threat that Adolf Hitler made them out to be.

This news organization does its job when the letters published here — and the counter responses they provoke — prompt communitywide scrutiny and promote thoughtful discussion.

This newspaper loves a good debate. Let's all strive to keep it good and make our communities better.

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