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Bigotry Against Ideas

Emotionally charged controversies require calm, reasoned discussion. That's the only way understanding, and maybe a resolution, can be attained.

A case in point is the recent placement of an ad in a few college newspapers arguing against giving reparations to African-Americans based on the legacy of slavery. The ad was written by conservative polemicist David Horowitz.

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Reasoned discussion about the ad went out the window on some campuses - campuses that normally pride themselves on a free flow of ideas.

The idea of compensating today's black Americans is welcomed in many halls of higher learning. The view that it may be a bad idea, likely to increase racial tensions, is not.

Yet some intrepid campus editors gave that view a paid presence in their pages. The resulting outburst at places like Brown University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison went beyond protest. Stacks of papers were taken from distribution points, lest anyone read the ad.

Perhaps some protesters saw that as an act of civil disobedience, a la the 1960s - breaking the law because what the law allowed was intolerable. But the law here is based on the First Amendment, which allows for the publication of views that some may find offensive, or even hurtful. This is the law that made the civil rights movement possible and spawned tremendous progress.

Mr. Horowitz's sharply reasoned views may or may not win the debate. But those on the other side will not help their cause by trying to stifle his views, rather than responding to them with calm and strong reasoning.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor