The Mirror

THE SILENCING: Paper Will Limit Anti-Gay Marriage Op-Eds

Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger
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The editorial board of PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. is taking a hardcore stance against those who disagree with the Supreme Court ruling to legalize gay marriage.

“As a result of Friday’s ruling, PennLive/The Patriot-News will no longer accept, nor will it print, op-Eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage,” they declared. 

After receiving strong pushback, the newspaper’s editorial board, which is overseen by Editorial Page Editor John Micek, quickly revised its policy. Freedom of speech will be allowed — but only for a “limited” period of time.

Micek explained on Twitter: “Clarification: We will not foreclose discussion of the high court’s decision, but arguments that gay marriage is wrong/unnatural are out.”

Before that, there was this: “From the edit: ‘PL/PN will no longer accept, nor will it print, op-Eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage.’ …This is not hard: We would not print racist, sexist or anti-Semitc letters. To that, we add homophobic ones. Pretty simple.”

The notice at the top of the editorial page of the website now reads: “12:58 p.m. This post has been updated to further elaborate PennLive’s policy for accepting letters and op-Eds on same-sex marriage.”

A wealth of commenters were not pleased.

  • “Big Jasper” opposes the policy: “Nice to see strict speech codes will be enforced by a ‘free’ press,” he wrote. “No need to worry about that messy ‘freedom of expression’ thing anymore.”
  • “Motown” remarked, “God has the real say not some loony editorial board.”
  • And “hgunwilltravel0” said this: “In layman’s terms, any Christian view on anything will not be tolerated on this liberal website. Say it like it is and cut to the chase, and add my statement above to your manifesto.”
  • “Chappedunderkee” focused on his bottom line and saw the glass half full. “I don’t mind who’s marrying who. It’s a good day to be a divorce lawyer.”

The editorial heavily praised the Supreme Court ruling, saying, “[Justice Anthony] Kennedy nailed it: There are no rights more fundamental than due process and equal treatment under the law.”

The board explained the newspaper’s policy to allow limited freedom of speech on the matter. (Bolded emphasis, mine.)

“In the more than four decades since, a union that was viewed as unnatural and even a hideous provocation to violence is now commonplace and celebrated. On Friday, the United States crossed a similar threshold, continuing a long road to acceptance of same-sex unions. And this news organization now crosses another threshold. As a result of Friday’s ruling, PennLive/The Patriot-News will very strictly limit op-Eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage.”

The editorial went on to compare a stance against gay marriage to an intolerance to interracial marriage or women being treated as inferior to men. The board will not be tolerate any of the above.

“These unions are now the law of the land. And we would not entertain such criticisms that these unions are morally wrong or unnatural any more than we would entertain criticisms of interracial marriage or those claiming that women are less equal than men in the eyes of the law. We will, however, for a limited time, accept letters and op-Eds critical of the high court’s decision and its legal merits.

The Mirror sought comment from Micek. He explained his views in a lengthy response, which I am running in its entirety:

Main points:

*The online comment section will not be shut down.

*He regrets not being clearer in the initial posting.

*“Certain forms of speech do not advance the discussion in a civil society.”

*Some letters critiquing the Supreme Court decision will be accepted.

“No one’s talking about limiting free speech on PennLive,” he wrote by email. “Nor is anyone talking about shutting down our online comments. That would be contrary to our mission as a news organization. And I certainly don’t think it’s a good idea at all.

“As PennLive’s Opinion Editor, I’m fully aware that a healthy debate is vital to a free society. And if the takeaway from our editorial on today’s decision is that we’re somehow trying to stifle free speech, then I regret not being clear enough in our initial posting.

“As you’ve likely noticed, the editorial has been revised to provide further clarity and specificity in response to the concerns voiced by our readers.

“With that in mind, I think we can all recognize that there are certain forms of speech that, while Constitutionally permissible, really do nothing to advance the discussion in a civil society.

“As I noted in the comments section of the editorial, no reasonable person would publish anti-Semitic speech, racist speech or sexist speech. It seems entirely reasonable to me to specifically add homophobic speech to that list.

“While that sort of speech has long been banned under our community guidelines for commenting, the Opinion page had never explicitly stated such a policy. Today’s decision seemed like an opportunity to provide that clarity.

“As the last week as has shown us, hate can have a terribly destructive effect when it is allowed to flourish. I’m trying to combat it by limiting its corrosive effect on our dialog. As I note, PennLive/The Patriot-News will accept letters and op-Eds critical of the Supreme Court’s decision on its merits or legal grounds.

“But we will not accept letters/op-Eds that use the Court’s ruling as a pretext to engage in hate speech.

“As to how long we’ll accept such submissions, I can’t really say. But there comes a point where matters are simply settled — as is the case in Loving v. Virginia. I guess we’ll just recognize that point when we’ve hit it.”