Opinions are like bellybuttons. Everyone has one. But unlike bellybuttons that don't change, opinions do. Sure bellybuttons get bigger or smaller but it is still a hole in your belly. My opinions have changed dramatically as I have grown older and I take it as a sign of an open mind. Hearing, speaking or reading about different opinions is one of the greatest rights we as Americans have and we should not let anyone take that away.
When I hear someone say, "The debate is over," my first thought is, what are they afraid of? Anytime someone is afraid of honest debate over an issue they are most likely trying to hide something from you or afraid you might start thinking and not like what you are being told. Open debate is more than one person's opinion. When it comes to opinions the debate is never over.
Moreover, when I hear, "That's hate speech and should not be allowed." I wonder who is going to decide what we can or can't hate. Hate is an emotion we all feel and we all have different things we hate. It is really not something that can be controlled by an outside source, it must be controlled from within that person. Sometimes people say words we might not approve of, but that does not give us the right to try and stop their free speech. When someone falsely yells fire in a crowded theater and people get hurt trying to escape, that is definitely physically hurting someone. Saying hateful words or slurs only hurts someone's feelings or pride and also shows the limited intelligence of the speaker.
In addition, I have heard of these 'Free Speech Zones' that was started under President Bush so that people wouldn't disturb him when he was giving a speech. I think this is the most absurd policy I have ever heard. Some universities now have 'Free Speech Zones' on their campuses and students are not allowed to speak of certain things outside the zone.
If I recall, this is still America and America has a constitution with our rights listed and the First Amendment is the right to free speech. It does not say we have a right to free speech designated only in free speech zones. It does not say we have a right to free speech only if you promise you won't hurt someone's feelings. And it definitely does not say we have the right to free speech until the debate is over.
Debating issues is a civilized way to hear other people's opinions and their reasoning behind it. Sometimes I am amazed after thinking I knew all about an issue and then someone comes up with a totally different angle. There are some gifted people whose talent is thinking outside the box and I enjoy listening or reading their opinions and why they think the way they do. Occasionally, they even change my opinion. In the end it is my choice on what to believe, when to believe or to change my belief.
I am sure my opinions will continue to change over my life and that does not make me a wishy-washy person. It just means I can admit I don't know it all nor have I heard it all and I am willing to hear both sides of an issue so I can make the best decision I can. Never take your right to freedom of speech for granted and never feel guilty about speaking your mind. Some people are not embarrassed to bare their bellybuttons so never be ashamed to share your opinions.
(Cindy Johnson is one of four community columnists for The Minot Daily News)