Freedom of speech cuts both ways
It seems the American Atheists want to hold a convention in Salt Lake City in April.
It seems they also want to advertise it on billboards in the state.
Problem is, no company that owns billboards will let them do it. At least not the way they want to.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the organizers of the convention called nine billboard companies in the state and only two called back. Those two basically said no, through long meandering statements concerning why they came out in the negative.
The billboards the Atheists plan to put up would portray ex-Mormons who have become atheists on them.
In saying no, one billboard company explained that they have to take local sensitivities into account.
Some people are inflamed by the fact that the billboard companies are bowing to pressure from the community and the predominant church. They say it is a violation of free speech.
But free speech cuts both ways. A person can say almost anything they want about anything in our country (short of terroristic threats, liable and in some cases indecency) but on the other end of that no one else must or is bound in any way to broadcast that view for them either.
Billboard companies are private concerns that can (and will) make decisions about what they put on their signs. They have that right. If someone wanted to put up a billboard that said "The sky is red, and not blue" as inoffensive as that is, a billboard company would not have to put it on one of their edifices. They don't even need to give a reason for not doing it if they don't want to.
Publications, magazines and newspapers face this kind of thing continually too. We at the Sun Advocate often get things people want to submit that we won't print. The reasons are many, but usually it has to do with someone either attacking another person or a business in the area. We also would not purposely print something if it offended our community's sensibilities.
In one particular incident a few years ago an advertiser wanted to run quite a lucrative ad (lucrative for us that is) concerning womens wear. This was not a local store but some kind of sale that was going to go on by one of those traveling vendors. The ad, was to say the least, very risque and sexually oriented. Sure we could have used the money; at the time we were in the middle of the great recession. But we said no. It didn't fit with what we feel is right for our community.
We have the right not to display something in our paper and so do the bill board companies.
The difference however in the newspaper business is that a billboard company would seldom if ever run a sign telling of some public official who had done something wrong, a government entity that was inept or something concerning specific criminal activity by an individual. We and other newspapers do that, but it is through the independent editorial department in stories, not in ads. Ads are sold by sales people who have little to do with stories that are generated in the newspaper.
But I do get people who are mad a lot because we won't print something they bring in. Often they think that they have written an article, but it is instead an opinion piece. The point is that everyone who brings something like that in thinks they are right. They may be, but they also may not be. In the journalism business, unless it is an opinion piece or a feature, a hard news piece should try to report both sides of an issue. That is not always easy to do, but we strive for that.
But I digress. The fact is that those that feel that a company should have to run something on their medium that they don't want to run, are wrong. The people that have complained to me about things we haven't run that they think we should I tell "Then start your own newspaper to broadcast it. That means you pay the bills, hire the people and take the risks of what you do."
As I discussed putting this opinion piece together with some of our staff, a question came up. They asked me if we would run an ad in our paper for the American Atheists like what is being presented to the billboard companies if the organization asked us to and was willing to pay for it.
I haven't been asked and doubt I will be, but that is a decision I would have to make at the time. I have not come across that bridge to cross as of yet.
Let me put you, the reader, in my spot. I ask you, what decision would you make?