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No cards for Constitution Day

“Sifting and winnowing.”

It sounds like cleaning  your closets. But it’s really the search for truth that uses freedom of speech as one of its primary tools.

Dr. Barbara Jones with the American Library Association’s office for intellectual freedom spoke at Simpson College Monday for Constitution Day. She talked about a plaque on the campus of the University of Wisconsin that declares the school, as should all schools, “ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”

And wow, what a difficult thing.

“Sifting and winnowing” speech to find truth can mean listening to some ugly stuff. Jones talked about author Ward Churchill, who was fired from the University of Colorado after an essay that claimed the Sept. 11 attacks were a natural and unavoidable consequence of U.S. policy.  She cited protests at Columbia University when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad  spoke there.

The tricky part of freedom of speech isn’t really the talking. It’s decide when to listen. It’s ferreting out the difference between freedom of speech and hate speech, and being smart enough to recognize what we have the right to say, but shouldn’t.

Truth is usually nuanced, and people who listen to only one side of an argument are unlikely to find it. Instead, we all have to sift through ideas we may disagree with, or may even hate, to find that spot where truth resides.

Try to put that on a Constitution Day card, Hallmark.

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