Post Classifieds

Editorial: A journalist's first responsibility

On October 24, 2011

One minute, you're on your way to class; the next, you're surrounded by angry protestors screaming their accusations of sin and eternal damnation.

It's not everyday you see students in shouting matches with Christian extremists.

A campus protest, particularly one not conducted by students, can be an interesting experience. Anything from handing out flyers to the vocal outbursts we experienced last Monday can be uncomfortable for those who are here everyday.

Especially when the message is so disturbing, especially so at a relatively liberal campus like Sonoma State that is making conscious efforts to foster community and diversity between its members. Many in attendance hoped they were in some violation of permit policies, and that the police would intervene.

But why should they have to leave? They were expressing their beliefs in the correct area of campus, without violence or danger to others.

The STAR in no way condones or supports the message the protestors chose to communicate last Monday. Our reporters and editors were just as shaken by the demonstration as others who were present to witness it. As individuals, we hoped for them to be silenced like many others. But as journalists, we have another responsibility to answer to.

This is not an issue about gay marriage, religion, race or gender. It's about the freedom to have an opinion either way, and to express it.

Even though the speech was not popular and very offensive to many, they had the right to say what they wanted without fear of persecution. It's the same rule that protects the staff of the STAR, and has protected us in the past, and we will stand by it.

The First Amendment is a universal rule. It applies to everyone, including sadists, bigots, racists, extremists and homophobes.

It's the same rule that protects speakers at gay pride rallies in San Francisco, and Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement. Regular U.S. citizens were able to shut down the Vietnam War by exercising their right to freedom of speech, and students here at SSU fought hateful messages by holding meetings and a demonstration of their own.

The events that transpired Monday are what make the First Amendment so valuable. As horrible as their message was, look at what happened afterword: rallies and meetings dedicated toward learning how to respond to the speech in a peaceful way. Without the freedom to express radical ideas and disagree with each other, we may as well be Orwell characters.

Sixty years ago, the idea that a black man and a white man could share a seat on a bus was horrendous. One hundred years ago, a woman having the right to vote was simply ludicrous.

We are where we are today because of the ability to exchange ideas and openly argue. It is foolish to throw it all away because of one extremist group.

It is not our job to police how other people feel, or how they express it. We can only control our reactions.

We are free to ignore them, to shout back, to hold protests of our own, and we should never qualify that freedom.  

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