April 20-26, 2001
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Congress among 2001 Muzzle Award winners

By Josh Wheeler

For the 10th straight year, the anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s birth on April 13 was marked by citing those who have forgotten his warning that freedom of expression cannot be limited without being lost.

Since 1991, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, headed by U.Va. Law professor Robert M. O’Neil, has conferred this dubious honor on some 80 people and organizations, including two U.S. presidents, three U.S. Senators, 18 public school principals and school districts, seven judges and a host of other public agencies and officials.

The Charlottesville-based Center is a non-partisan, non-profit organization devoted solely to protecting free expression against a host of threats. Reflecting on a decade of censuring the censors, O’Neil said that “the Muzzles come from all parts of the country and all points on the political spectrum. Increasingly, threats to free speech, and thus Jefferson Muzzles, involve curbs on electronic and digital expression through the Internet and other new media.

“Many of the people and groups we cite have the best of intentions. They honestly believe that some higher value or interest justifies inhibiting speech. We have the unhappy task of telling them why we feel they are wrong — and why we believe Mr. Jefferson would also take them to task.”
O’Neil observed that one of the constants is the distressingly large number of candidates from which the final Muzzles are chosen. This year’s crop includes:

• The 106th Congress of the United States
For requiring that all schools and public libraries that participate in certain federal programs install filtering software on all Internet-access computer terminals, regardless of whether the federal programs paid for the terminals or Internet connection.

• Missouri State Rep. Sam Gaskill
For introducing a bill in the state legislature that would authorize the use of force against someone who burns a flag.

• The New Iberia (La.) Sheriff’s Department
For confiscating a number of compact discs (without a search warrant) played at a local roller skating rink and arresting the owner and the manager of the rink for contributing to the delinquency of minors. Among the discs seized were “The Hokey Pokey,” “The Chicken Dance” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

• The Sacramento (Calif.) Convention & Visitors’ Bureau
For allowing the organizers of a convention being held there to put clothes on an outdoor statue of Poseidon because they objected to the nude depiction of the Greek god.

• Essex County (N.J.) Executive James Treffinger and Sheriff Armando Fortunato
For denying producers of the HBO series The Sopranos permission to shoot on county-owned property because they did not like the series’ portrayal of Italian-Americans.

• The Bluestem (Kan.) Unified School District No. 205
For reacting to an art poster created by an accomplished art student by suspending her for three months unless she underwent psychological counseling.

• The administration of Varina High School (Henrico County, Va.)
For suspending two high-school students for allegedly disrupting the school day. The students organized a demonstration before school hours to protest a school policy banning Confederate symbols and to celebrate the governor’s declaration of April as “Confederate History Month.”

• Georgia House Speaker Tom Murphy
For blocking a speech to the House by the 1999 Teacher of the Year after learning that the teacher had criticized an education reform bill in a speech to the Senate.

• The County Commission of Montgomery County, Tex.
For ignoring the recommendations of the County Attorney and the County Library Advisory Board and ordering the installation of filters on every public access computer in the library system. The library already had a policy prohibiting Internet use by minors without parental permission.
• The administration of the Paxson School for Advanced Studies, Jacksonville, Fla.

For slicing the pages from a textbook containing a Pulitzer Prize-winning play because some scenes in the play were deemed inappropriate for high-school students. The same text had been used for four years but the play had never been assigned reading.

For more on the 2001 Jefferson Muzzle Awards, visit http://www.tjcenter.org.


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of the University of Virginia

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