janea reading newspaper

A woman reads The Sheridan Press in a local coffee shop in this photo illustration.

I appreciated the information provided by Ashleigh Snoozy, The Sheridan Press managing editor, in the editor’s column on the Press’ Opinion Page Jan. 19 and 26, “How to read the newspaper” and “How to read the paper, part 2”. Importantly, Snoozy emphasized “Likely the most misunderstood section, the Opinions page ... brings opinions from different sectors of our community and nation.

Snoozy goes on to state “All content under this section must be taken as opinion only. While facts may be weaved in … all interject some sort of opinion. Anything on these pages I would not describe as an article or go to for factual information.” The Opinion section regularly features local columnists, editorials, letters to the editor and, as a special page on Friday, the Faith page with the Pastor’s Corner.

In my opinion, everyone’s entitled to have an opinion but should be responsible for how they express that opinion. Logically, we know that a letter to the editor or a Pastor’s Corner article will express the opinion of the writer and should be read and scrutinized as such. Likewise, other publicly-expressed commentaries should be carefully scrutinized to determine if they’re fact or merely the opinion of the presenter.

Two of the Unitarian Universalist Principles are:

• A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

• The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and society at large.

It’s appropriate to be a skeptic and conduct your own research when the message includes adjectives such as biggest, smallest, worst or best. Exaggerations are one indicator that the messenger is conveying a misleading message or opinion. Exaggerations, intentional or unwitting, lead to distrust and disregard for the message and the messenger.

I’m a big fan of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It’s the First Amendment that protects our right to peaceably assemble to protest injustices and to conduct our search for truth and meaning, without worry of government interference.

But the First Amendment should not be viewed as a free pass to disguise opinions in the wrappings of factual news. As information consumers and conveyors, we have a responsibility to ascertain if the message delivered to us (and by us) is fact or opinion. And if we’re delivering a message, it’s our responsibility to not give an opinion in the guise of facts.

That’s my opinion.

Roger Sanders is the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Sheridan representative to the Ministerial Association.

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