In Defense of Free Speech: The 2011 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. This year's first place award goes to the attempt at stifling speech by the Obama administration and the BP oil company. As the Center explains:

#1 Following the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 10, 2010, the wellhead continued to spew oil for three months. As journalists attempted to document the impact of the oil plume, BP employees and various government authorities—including local law enforcement, the Coast Guard, and Homeland Security—repeatedly prevented them from viewing public areas. Whether these incidents were collectively intended, or the incidental by-products of an ambiguous policy that allowed BP and government agents too much latitude, the Obama Administration and BP share responsibility for having prevented the media from fully documenting the spill.

One other notable Muzzle went to the Transporation Security Administration for arresting Aaron Tobey at the Richmond, Va. airport when he protested the TSA full body scanning procedures by baring his chest on which he had written the Fourth Amendment. As the Center explains:

#2 Aaron Tobey broke no laws when he removed his sweatpants and shirt at the Richmond airport. His peaceful protest of disrobing and displaying the Fourth Amendment on his bared torso could be characterized as "passenger theater," in the same manner that airport security has been characterized as "security theater" by its critics. For this expression of dissent, he was charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor that can result in up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine. On January 11, 2011, the Henrico County Commonwealth's Attorney responsible for prosecuting the case announced that Tobey's actions did not constitute a crime, and that the charge against him would be dropped.  Clearly, the TSA has an important and difficult job in keeping our airways safe. Yet the arrest of Aaron Tobey was an extreme overreaction to an individual exercising his First Amendment right to protest in a peaceful and non-disruptive manner. For failing to recognize that Americans do not have to surrender their Constitutional rights along with their shoes and metal objects when they wish to travel by air, the Transportation Security Administration earns a 2011 Jefferson Muzzle.

And it's not just government agencies that try to shut people up. The Center awarded a Muzzle to the administration of Hamilton College in New York for imposing extreme political correctness by requiring all male students to attend the "She Fears You" orientation. The Center describes the orientation session as "an ideologically based program that assumes the complicity of men in maintaining a culture of rape." The Center does note:

As a private college, Hamilton is not bound by the dictates of the First Amendment. Yet, as an institution of higher learning that promotes itself as being committed to teaching students to "think for themselves," it fell short of its promise in this instance. Requiring first-year men to attend a presentation billed as a "cognitive and emotional intervention" speaks of forced indoctrination that is the very opposite of freedom of conscience and thereby earns the Hamilton College Administration a 2011 Jefferson Muzzle.

Go here for the list of the 2011 Muzzle "winners."