"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Separation of everybody and state

We’re not going to argue here that Oregon legislative services are logally in the wrong in their contention that state legislators’ web sites should not – under legal and ethical guidelines – include links to non-governmental web areas.

There’s some grayness to the top, but you could make a case that they’re right. Legally. And that their decision to take down all individual legislator pages to strip them of non-government links was justifiable.

The larger question is, should that be the law?

There’s not an absolute in this area. People would have good cause to object if, for example, the state treasurer’s web site carried a link to a bank, or if the state forestry web site linked to their favorite restaurant, or some other to a church.

Surely, though, there’s a reasonably distinction between that and the things legislators have routinely been linking to. (None of those links, apparently, was the subject of a complaint or a specific tripwire for the removal action.) They’ve been linking to community service organizations, non-profits, occasionally to a chanber of commerce, sometimes to news stories. Most of them fall either into the category of “here’s where you can go to help your community” or “here’s some more information.” And legislators are, after all, in the business of trafficking in ideas and information – that’s what their job is about. Surely there’s nothing wrong with that kind of dissemination.

Today’s Oregonian news article on this quoted freshman Representative Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, as suggesting that the system is self-correcting: If legislators post something inappropriate on their sites, they’ll hear about it and likely correct it. She also said she may introduce legislation in the next session (if she returns) to allow non-governmental links.

Indeed: You can take the matter of purity a step or two too far.

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