Crossing the line

Letters to the editor are said to be the lifeblood of a newspaper. It’s an opportunity for readers to voice their support or criticism of a decision or issue, or to point out local concerns they feel need to be addressed.
It is an exchange of ideas and opinions that is a cornerstone to our concepts of democracy and a free press, and often is a reflection of a vibrant and dynamic community.
The Fort Frances Times welcomes letters to the editor and, frankly, would love to see more of them on a weekly basis. It’s important to bear in mind, however, that letters are subject to being edited for length and content, particularly when it comes to laws around libel, defamation, and, more recently, hate speech.
A good case in point was the inaugural “Pride Week” celebrations in Fort Frances last month. It was–and remains–a controversial issue given a segment of our population opposes homosexuality based on their religious convictions. Fair enough; everyone is entitled to their opinion. The problem comes when expressing that opinion in a letter crosses the line of hate speech.
One letter that was published contained a passing reference to a Bible passage. It seemed innocuous enough on the surface but, as one person rightly pointed out in the following week’s “Cheers and Jeers” column in the Tuesday Daily Bulletin, the passage in question was hate speech because it says “those who practice such things [homosexual acts] deserve to die.”
A second letter subsequently submitted by a reader was not published because it quoted several Biblical passages in support of their argument, which again implied that those in the LGBTQ2 community, as well as anyone else who may support their cause, were wicked and deserving of God’s wrath.
Neither letter was written in an obviously offensive manner but the underlying message of each one clearly targeted members of an identifiable group in a disparaging or intimidating way and, more importantly, could potentially incite violence or prejudicial action against them.
That falls under the definition of hate speech.
While the Times does welcome and encourage letters to the editor on a wide range of topics, there are justifiable limits on free speech that cannot be crossed.