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The Daily Tar Heel

Civil dialogue: Participants in tonight’s forum with U.S. Rep. David Price should be respectful

The First Amendment makes it absolutely clear that we have a right to free speech.

Those attending U.S. Rep. David Price’s, D-N.C., town hall meeting tonight would do well to remember this.

This is a free event designed to stimulate awareness and discussion about health care.

Price’s accessibility is what makes these types of town hall meetings informative and productive.

But this type of forum also risks disruption by protesters — whether independent or affiliated with a specific group or organization.

Such behavior does nothing but harm the disruptive side, since open dialogue is crucial to a democratic society.

Price will be speaking about the controversial subject of health care reform. As a veteran 11-term member of Congress, his experience and influence should afford him respect from all sides of the political spectrum.

And while students and other locals ought to make their opinions known at this meeting, it should be through intelligent discourse and calm questioning.

It should not be through angry slogans and chants, disruptive behavior, or vandalism, as we have witnessed in recent weeks in health care related town hall events across the nation.

The events that unfolded last year during speeches sponsored by the student group Youth for Western Civilization were a national embarrassment.

Buildings were damaged, people were arrested and the image of this campus as a bastion of free speech was tarnished.

Having a big group, a banner or even a megaphone does not make you more powerful, fair or intelligent than any speaker — however controversial.

Supporters of Price should be eager to engage differing viewpoints with dialogue backed by the congressman’s own words.

Likewise, the opportunity for debate, not censorship, is what any opponent with a valid point should seek.

It would be wonderful for this event to go smoothly, and hopefully we have learned from last year’s debacles.

Otherwise, we will only continue to stifle the democratic process by censoring free speech.

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