In Defense of Free Speech: The 2009 Jefferson Muzzle Awards


Every year the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression in Charlottesville, Va., awards "Jefferson Muzzles" to organizations that stifle free speech. The two major parties are at the top of the list for confining citizens who wish to protest to remote "free speech zones." These free speech zones arose from the police state concerns of the Department of Homeland Security. The result was that the DHS determined that each of the conventions was a "National Special Security Event." The consequence:

This designation authorized the United States Secret Service as the lead agency to design and implement, in conjunction with the host cities and the conventions' organizers, security measures for the two events. Although court challenges to the security measures planned for both conventions failed, the political parties acquiescence to such measures, and their failure to criticize the harsh imposition of the measures during the conventions, substantiates a view held by some that free speech is an annoyance to be accommodated as little as possible rather than a constitutional right integral to the democratic process. Imbued with such a view, it is only a short step for police to equate lawful dissent with illegal disruption, and to see press coverage of protests as interference rather than a fundamental First Amendment freedom.

Then there was Yuba College's suppression of Christian speech:

Yuba College threatened student Ryan Dozier with arrest and even expulsion for his insistence on conveying to the campus community a Christian message in a manner contrary to severely restrictive speech regulations. At the core of those rules was the College's concept of "daytime non-class activities," including demonstrations, rallies and protests, however peaceful. Such activities were permitted only between noon and 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Even at those times a would-be speaker or organizer must obtain a permit two weeks before the event. Moreover, the College's Code of Conduct elsewhere barred "harassment," defined to include, "display or circulation of visual or written material that degrades an individual" as well as "inappropriate or offensive remarks, slurs [or] jokes." When told that he must comply with all these constraints if he wished to speak on the Yuba College campus, Dozier took his free-speech claim to court. In late January, 2009, a Federal District judge signed a consent order, based on the College's commitment to revise the challenged rules to conform to constitutional principles.

And then there are public schools eager to stanch free speech in South Carolina:

In 2008, two students at the Academy for Arts, Science & Technology?a high school located in Horry County, South Carolina—sought to fulfill a writing assignment by producing something that was missing at the school, a student newspaper….

In November 2008, the premiere edition of The Academy Post had been printed and was ready for circulation when Principal Ronnie Burgess banned its distribution. Burgess reportedly was concerned that an editorial advocating legal recognition of same-sex marriage, which included a photo of two male students holding hands, would cause disruption at the school. "I had some concerns about the content of the article and how it might impact students here and what the community concerns might be when the article was distributed," Burgess was reported as saying. Burgess provided $500 in school funds to reprint the edition, provided it did not contain the editorial or the photograph.

And Colorado:

Fifth grader Daxx Dalton came to Aurora Frontier K-8 in Aurora one day in early September 2008, wearing a shirt with the hand-lettered message "Obama – a Terrorist's Best Friend." His sister appeared at school that day with a shirt that featured a red line through the word "Obama" followed by a pro-McCain message. (All students had been asked on that day to wear red, white and blue to school as evidence of their patriotism.) Daxx was suspended for three days when he refused to turn the shirt inside out, cover it, or exchange it for a less volatile garment. School officials justified the suspension on the basis of their perception that the "Terrorist's Best Friend" shirt had caused "shouting and yelling;" other students had apparently apprised Frontier teachers of concerns about Daxx's message.

Read the Jefferson Center's whole disgraceful list of free speech muzzlers here