Plenty of words are getting tossed around these days about the United States Constitution. The Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence have been bandied about quite a bit, too, come to think about it.
Why is that? Well, we think it surely must have something to do with the presidential election that awaits registered voters in November. Don't you? We do know this: The number and size of letters being sent to the editor at this newspaper have seldom been greater. And we're pretty darn sure the national election is a major part of the reason.
That's a good thing, make no mistake about it. The more letters we get, the better. We appreciate the fact that so many readers respect us enough to want to express their views on our Opinion page. Really, thank you very much for using us to get the word out.
Sure, we get letters all year 'round, on any number of topics that can range from the terribly serious to the outrageously comic. And don't forget those grouped under the "In appreciation" umbrella - the ones used to thank people who reach out to help various groups and individuals.
For the most part, we have little trouble deciding to run letters on the Opinion page. There are exceptions, however, and taking time to explain the difference between an appropriate and inappropriate letter is time, and space, well used.
The "rules" for producing a letter that we will print are included in a little box called "Readers' opinions" that appears most every day on the Opinion page. It's on this page in its entirety.
One simple sentence from that set of rules sometimes brings people up short: The Sentinel reserves the right to edit or reject all letters to the editor.
What? How can that be? The Constitution guarantees the right of free speech to every American. You can't deny anyone from expressing their views. Can you?
Well, yes we can, and sometimes we do. While it is true that the First Amendment guarantees some very basic freedoms, including freedom of speech, nothing in that document says that anyone but the person doing the speaking is responsible for providing a medium to spread the word.
Certainly, we would like to print every single letter that comes our way, and we would rather not change a word. Most often, we get out the editing tools when questions of libel arise, but there can be other reasons. While it would be impractical to try to define every reason for denying publication of a letter, suffice it to say that very few do not make it.
If we truly want people to send us letters, you might well wonder, why then are we spending all this time and space with warnings about what will get your letter rejected? Good question.
We want to make it clear that what is contained in the First Amendment - and much of the Bill of Rights and the entire Constitution for that matter - is not always easy to enjoy. Just as they required hard work and courage, and yes, blood, to create, so too do the freedoms found in those documents demand effort and dedication. The more we all exercise those freedoms, the stronger they become.