Drawing Line On Free Speech

The freedom to say what we think, no matter how repugnant to others, is one of the greatest glories of our system of government. It also is the foundation supporting our other liberties.

But there is a limit, as both the courts and thoughtful Americans recognize: Say what you will, regardless of how hateful – but do not endanger others or threaten their safety.

Secret Service officials say a McMechen man, Ryan Kirker, crossed that line. He has been arrested on charges he sent letters threatening the lives of President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and their two daughters.

Kirker, 20, allegedly sent letters spewing racist filth to the White House and at least one other person.

Again, as revolting as reasonable people find such expressions of bigotry, they are protected by the First Amendment. American tradition, as well as the Constitution and Bill of Rights, supports a free exchange of ideas.

Sharp, often insulting, exchanges have become part of our politics and culture.

That appears to be more so now than in the past because of the mistake some people make in believing the Internet provides them with anonymity.

Regardless of the method of communication, however, people need to understand there are consequences for crossing the line between spewing venom and threatening the well-being of another.

If Kirker is guilty of having sent letters threatening to kill the president and his family, he should be punished. Americans tolerate and even encourage boisterous debate about issues and sometimes, people. We do not allow it to escalate to threats of violence against those with whom we disagree.