It was a relatively civil exchange, though I was shaken. It’s uncomfortable to discuss personal beliefs with strangers. But she started it. And I’m thankful she did.
What a horrible, horrible state we would be in if everyone agreed about everything. Opening conversation about our beliefs and listening, really listening to each other, is the only thing that will ever bring about peace between humans. Being brave enough to share our beliefs, and then brave enough to listen to people who disagree and try to understand what they mean, instead of trying to convince them they are wrong, takes a special kind of courage. It’s not one we see much in the national media right now.
Last week my student newspaper ran an opinion piece about the Baltimore riots, written by a senior on my staff, who said, among other things, that the rioters were confirming the worst stereotypes about black people and that excuses are holding black people back. The editorial staff discussed the piece before we ran it and uniformly decided we should. My only concern was (and is) for the writer: that he be prepared for the invective that might come his way.
My job as the adviser is first to protect my writers and editors. My job is secondarily to produce a strong newspaper. If the only opinions we ran were ones we all agree with, I would be failing miserably.
One of my colleagues asked me, the day the paper came out, if I was concerned that people would think I agreed with the writer. I said no. He then asked if I was worried for the paper, or for my own job. Again I said no. I care about freedom of speech in general, and my writers in particular, more than I care about anything else. I’m not looking for a fight – I much prefer peace – but as a high school newspaper adviser I’m always prepared for what may come. If it came down to it (and I don’t think it will) I am prepared to be fired for this belief. I know I have the Student Press Law Center, the First Amendment, and my own convictions on my side.
And I have Voltaire. Voltaire said, “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will fight to the death your right to say it.” I do not agree with my opinion writer, but that’s irrelevant. I will fight for him in any way I need to.
And I will fight for the older woman outside the polling place, who spent her day making her voice heard. She was against freedom - marital freedom. But she was for freedom of speech, in one of the truest ways the founders of this country could imagine. How brave.