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How Would You Keep Conversation Civil Without Cutting Off Debate?

With political opponents frequently viewing each others’ opinions as immoral, Patch wants to know when you think speech crosses over from an attack on an issue to an attack on a group of people.

Partisan rhetoric is nothing new—especially when election season rolls around. Still, the trends of this election season have a good case for being, if not unprecedented, at least uncommon. While hyperpartisans have long crossed swords over ideology, many of the issues at play in this election have opponents debating morality.

Gay marriage supporters argue that criticism of their position constitutes bigotry and hate speech, equivalent to racism and anti-Semitism. Catholics say those critical of the church’s social positions are intolerant of their faith. Evangelicals, Mormons, Muslims and Scientologists have all raised similar objections when their faith came under scrutiny.

Patch hasn’t been immune from this controversy. We’ve been criticized for both and for highlighting comments from a gay marriage opponent.

Our goal here at Patch is to provide a place for readers to share their thoughts. This is often about local issues: How much should a community raise taxes? Is a project a good fit for a neighborhood? Does an ordinance need to be changed?

But our communities don’t exist in a vacuum. National issues resonate on local streets. The same morality debates occurring across the country have a place on Patch.

Moderating these debates is not straightforward when many on both sides see the opposing view as fundamentally immoral. Although Patch’s terms of use covers obvious infractions, it doesn’t address a constitutional referendum that critics say is itself bigoted or legislation that other critics charge attacks religious faith.

That’s why we want to know what you think. When does speech cross over from an attack on an issue to an attack on a group of people? How would you balance the need for civil dialog with vigorous debate on key issues? How would you allow diverse opinions and still keep the conversation polite? What speech, if any, should be off limits? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

James Warden June 25, 2012 at 09:16 PM
I impose limits, but they're not arbitrary. Such limits do not suppress the free exchange of ideas. They merely constrain how those ideas are communicated in the interest of fostering a more civil discussion. Patch has allowed both sides in this discussion broad freedom to express their opinions. The fact that that freedom is not unlimited does not mean we are trying to suppress a point of view. What freedom is ever truly unlimited?
Orono June 25, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Perfect example is the voter id amendment. Republicans want it. Because republicans want it, liberals automatically dont. Regardless if you need an id to work, cash a check, buy liquor, volunteer, rent an apartment, drive a car, make a return at target....
Orono June 25, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Matt, it is only hate speech if it is negative towards the beliefs of liberals. If you feel the need to criticize the current president well, then that is considered racist hate speech.
Orono June 25, 2012 at 10:39 PM
The Gay marriage topic is a classic politically correct topic. Recent polls show that about 51% of this country is pro gay marriage. In reality I would guess that number would drop significantly given the opportunity to vote in privacy. People would rather avoid debate than speak up for what they truly believe. LIberals are so quick to paint anti gay marriage supporters as haters, there is no reason to even try and debate it.
Orono June 25, 2012 at 11:06 PM
controversal words? Calling the president a facist and then backing up your assertion is not offensive. It might be incorrect but hardly controversial. Now, if you cant back up the claim, you are likely saying it simply to be hurtful and then it is no longer an opinion.

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