Letters to the Editor - Weekly Issue of October 18, 2010

Readers write in about free speech, genetically modified crops and overpopulation, legalizing marijuana in California.

The limits of free speech

The Oct. 4 article, "Free speech: How free should it be?" gave a thought-provoking account of the US Supreme Court case between Albert Snyder, the grieving father of a fallen marine, and Pastor Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church, who offensively protested gay rights at the soldier's funeral. There are limits to all good things – even free speech.

The First Amendment allows a group to object to US policy by burning American flags. But let's say that fire damages another party's property. Can the First Amendment bar a civil law suit for damages under those circumstances? Applying this model to the Albert Snyder v. Westboro Baptist Church case, Mr. Snyder's rights are clear. It's just the "aggrieved property owner" wanting recompense.

Pastor Phelps can say what he wants about gay rights, and there are many forums for this, including his own pulpit. But when he harms a family assembled to grieve – another First Amendment right – that family should have the right for a jury to determine their damages.

John Ellsworth

Gig Harbor, Wash.

GM crops don't really help

The Oct. 4 editorial, " 'Frankenfish' and next-gen food" highlights some of the advantages of genetically modified food. But GM crops also have their downside. Use of GM wheat in Punjab, India, resulted in increased crop yields, but also led to an unsustainable rate of decline in ground water. The high-yield crops also depleted nutrients in the soil, requiring more fertilizer and associated expenses.

Technology may help us increase our food and energy supply and find ways to discard waste. But these problems all stem from overpopulation. Wouldn't it be more rational to attack them from the demand side as well – by encouraging smaller families and better family planning? There are arguably already more people on the planet than can be supported sustainably. We need to stop pretending that we will be able to feed 8.6 billion people in 2050.

Roger L. Hooke

Bryand Global Sciences Center, University of Maine

Orono, Maine

California should legalize pot

Regarding the article "California puts pot to a vote" (Oct. 4): Marijuana is not a "new drug" for teenagers. Legalizing pot would simply prevent teens from easily obtaining pot the same way age laws make it harder for kids to get alcohol and tobacco. Outlaw dealers don't check for age. Licensed dealers do. Teens in the Netherlands, where marijuana is legal, use less pot than their American peers. Even if Proposition 19 doesn't generate a nickel in tax revenue, some estimate California will save more than $500 million in law enforcement, court, and incarceration costs. The benefits are clear.

Ralph Givens

Daly City, Calif.

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