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TUESDAY, MARCH 22, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Valid or not, dissenting views need not be hushed

For a society built on the concept of free speech, we get way too uptight when people exercise that freedom in absurd ways.

The latest example involves a group that should know better.

A group of historians, coordinated by the Institute for Holocaust Studies, let fly their frustration at a planned program on C-SPAN. The program will feature a British historian who disputes commonly understood facts regarding the extent of the Holocaust.

It would be delightful if every person exercising his right of free speech would do so responsibly. But freedom does not work that way and never has.

The theory behind the First Amendment is not that everyone has a valid point, but that Americans collectively have the ability to choose wisely between diverse points.

C-SPAN's decision to air a scholarly revisionist's odd viewpoint should cause not a ripple of concern. If his proclamation is as absurd as we expect, those who matter will summarily reject it.

Historians should dig back in their textbooks to the 1919 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Abrams v. United States.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in dissent, but his logic has carried the day ever since:

"When men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market."

As surely as the justice's dissent prevailed in the marketplace of ideas, the words of a confused historian will fail.

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