Center hands out a dozen 'Muzzles'
a whole lot of censorship going on -- at least according to the
Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression,
which this year awarded a record-tying 12 "Jefferson Muzzles."
on April 13, the anniversary of the University founder's birth,
the awards "draw national attention to abridgements of free
speech and press and, at the same time, foster an appreciation
for those tenets of the First Amendment," the center, directed
by U.Va. law professor Robert M. O'Neil, said in a statement.
ninth annual award-winners are:
The George W. Bush Presidential Campaign, for threatening to
sue a man who parodied Bush's official campaign Web site. Although
the satirist revised the content, Bush's campaign filed a complaint
with the Federal Election Commission asking that the site be
forced to comply with rules governing political action committees.
The Jefferson Center commented that Bush's actions may signal
an inclination to limit free speech on the Internet if he is
The Clinton Administration, for continuing the "don't ask,
don't tell" policy for dealing with gay members of the
armed forces. Specifically cited was the case of Arizona State
Rep. Steve May, who was discharged from the Army Reserves after
revealing his homosexuality on the floor of the state House
of Representatives. "In punishing Rep. May for civilian
speech, the ... policy reaches well beyond military life,"
the center's citation said.
Muscogee (Ga.) County Superintendent of Education Guy W. Sims,
for ordering teachers' aides to alter a famous portrait of George
Washington crossing the Delaware River that appeared in new
editions of a fifth-grade textbook. In the portrait, Washington
is wearing a watch fob which Sims feared students could perceive
CBS News, for digitally substituting its own logo for an NBC
logo that appeared in the background of its coverage of New
Year's Eve celebrations in New York's Times Square. "News
organizations bear a responsibility to draw a bright line between
fantasy and reality," the center commented. "The public
trusts that images appearing in the context of news programming
are accurate. That trust could be destroyed if news organizations
begin altering what is seen through the camera, especially for
The Midland (Tex.) Independent School District and Midland High
principal Neil Richmond, for suspending a student and refusing
to allow him to participate in graduation ceremonies because
he photographed the principal's car parked in front of a certain
house -- "a picture that could cause the principal some
embarrassment." The photographs, though legally taken and
never brought to school property, constituted "disrespect
for an adult," the principal said. The center cited school
officials for "placing avoidance of personal embarrassment
far ahead of another's First Amendment rights."
Ponder (Tex.) Independent School District superintendent Byron
Welsh, Ponder High principal Chance Allen and assistant principal
Ted Heers, who the center said "overreacted by far"
to a student author's work. A few days before Halloween, Christopher
Beamon was assigned to write a horror story, and received extra
credit for reading it aloud. The story mentioned shooting three
classmates and a teacher; when the students' parents complained,
a sheriff's deputy was summoned and Beamon was held for six
days and five nights in a detention center. The center cited
school officials for "suppressing academic freedom and
the young essayist's free speech rights."
Board of Trustees of Georgetown Charter Township, Mich., for
filtering access to the Internet at its public terminals. Although
Michigan law allows libraries to limit minors' access to certain
sites, the Georgetown board opted to limit all users' access.
The center noted that the filters block access to some non-offensive
sites, as well as sites containing sexually explicit, but not
legally obscene, content.
The Rockingham County (Va.) School Board, Spotswood High principal
C. James Slye and superintendent John H. Kidd, for ordering
an English teacher to remove from his classroom door a pamphlet
about book censorship. The teacher, Jeffrey Newton, had routinely
posted each year's edition of an American Library Association
pamphlet that lists the previous year's most-banned and challenged
books. After a parent complained, the superintendent ordered
the pamphlet removed. The center "questions the judgment"
of the school officials involved.
The 1999 Virginia General Assembly, for rejecting an application
to include the Confederate battle flag on a special license
plate for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The citation, while
acknowledging the offensive nature of the symbol, noted that
the legislature created a public forum by offering groups their
own plates, then engaged in "clear viewpoint discrimination"
by barring the Confederate group from using the flag on its
Lorain County (Ohio) prosecutor Gregory A. White, for pressing
child obscenity charges against Cynthia Stewart for pictures
she took of her 3-year-old daughter's bath. The center noted,
"There was no evidence that Nora was sexually abused, no
evidence that Ms. Stewart took the photographs for some sexual
purpose of her own, and no evidence that the photographs were
to be used for a commercial purpose or to be displayed anywhere
but in the family photo album.² Yet Stewart, a prolific photographer
who had taken more than 40,000 pictures of her daughter previously,
was suspended from her job, incurred $30,000 in legal fees and
was threatened with jail time and loss of custody.
Federal Bureau of Investigation, for seeking the removal of
video it deemed unsettling from an Internet site. The six-minute
video included realistic-looking images of unrest in Times Square,
while suggesting that the government might incite a riot there
on New Year's Eve. The filmmaker, Michael Zieper, and the host
of the Internet site, Mark Wieger, say federal agents pressed
them to remove the video from the site. The center cited the
FBI "for acting as though it believed or assumed that citizens
are not free to post unsettling fictional images on Internet
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani -- who last year earned
a lifetime Muzzle from the center -- for attempting to cut $7
million in city funding for the Brooklyn Museum and evict it
from its city-owned building due to an exhibit called "Sensation."
Giuliani was particularly offended by one piece titled "The
Holy Virgin Mary," which depicts Mary with African features,
and attached a clump of elephant dung as well as magazine cutouts
of female genitalia. "The First Amendment issue here is
not whether 'Sensation' is good art or bad art," the citation
said, "but whether Mayor Giuliani may answer that question
for all New Yorkers rather than allowing them to answer it for
themselves." The city later settled a federal lawsuit over
the case by restoring the funding, plus an additional $5.8 million
for capital projects.