Opinion & Editorial

Editorial: Free speech, other rights, not unlimited

The reaction to the controversy surrounding SLCF&R chief John Wooten has come from far and wide, with multiple angles, hot takes and measured opinions.

The Chronicle has not opined on the issue – until now. 

One of the more common themes in the hundreds of emails we received from the fire district relates to our First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Or, more specifically, the chief’s right to freedom of speech. 

The fact is our rights are not unlimited. Pick any of our individual freedoms and we find limitations everywhere. Limitations that encourage safety, public welfare, and common-sense restrictions so we can live together in a peaceful society. 

We follow rules and regulations every day. Private businesses and municipalities have policies, codes and conditions on all kinds of things that impact our “freedoms.”

You can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater as a joke. You can’t fire off your guns in your backyard or shoot people you disagree with. I’m not letting my reporters cover a city council meeting barefoot. 

Well, you could, in theory, do any of those things, but not without consequences. 

Our speech is protected, for sure. Even ugly, hateful speech at times. But, really, how does that help solve anything? 

The expletive-filled emails and voicemails sent to The Chronicle for our news reporting is upsetting. So are a number of the public comments we received through our Freedom of Information requests with the district. 

Reading through hundreds of emails sent to SLCF&R – regardless of position – revealed a considerable amount of profanity-filled name-calling and insults to Wooten, to the board, about the media, about those with differing political views. 

On social media, one of the Wooten stories got reported over two-dozen times the day it was published, with 121 reported comments on the Creswell community page. It wasn’t long before the administrator of the group wiped all mention of the fire chief story from its online forum, deleting news stories and blocking comments, because he said the comments were getting too nasty.

Regardless of your position on this controversy, hurling insults at your neighbors for a differing perspective can only stunt the opportunity for growth and understanding. 

Free speech is not a scapegoat for egregious behavior, and is not a right without consequence.

No matter what restrictions might apply to appropriate freedom of speech, we advocate for a higher level of discourse. 

More this week:

* Performance reviews reflect effective leadership, early social media misuse

* Editorial: Free speech, other rights, not unlimited

A two-page spread of community reaction sent to the fire board


* JULY 16: Investigation reveals ‘hacking’ letter, more controversial posts, A two-page timeline of events

* June 24: Wooten ‘sorry’ for posts

* June 18: Wooten reinstated without disciplinary action 

* June 12: Wooten investigation ongoing  

* April 29: Leading the way: Area doctors, leaders deploy across Oregon



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