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The Jefferson Muzzles

May 11, 2018

For the third day in a row, the blog finds itself addressing freedom of speech.

While surfing the Interwebs, I chanced upon the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Freedom of Expression.  Each year, the organization hands out the “Jefferson Muzzles” awards. According to the website, the awards, announced on or near April 13—the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson—are presented “as a means to draw national attention to abridgments of free speech and press and, at the same time, foster an appreciation for those tenets of the First Amendment. The Muzzles are a good-natured rebuke to all government officials, lest they forget or disregard Mr. Jefferson’s admonition that freedom of speech “cannot be limited without being lost.”

Refreshingly, the awards go to those of all political stripes. Among the 2018 winners were:

– Kearney High School in Kearney, MO, which deleted two senior-page quotes from the 2017 yearbook. Where every other senior’s portraits were accompanied by personal quotes, selected by each graduating senior to memorialize their time at the school, Joey Slivinski and Thomas Swartz saw only their pictures and blank space where their quotes should have appeared. School officials had removed both students’ quotes without warning or explanation, but to Slivinski and Swartz, the reason was clear; both were openly gay and had submitted quotes alluding to their sexuality.

– The U.S. Capitol Police. As they were arresting people (some in wheelchairs) who were peacefully protesting against legislation designed to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, the police ordered the press not to record the arrests and to delete any photos they had taken, on the grounds that the U.S. Capitol hallway was a “crime scene.”

– Martha Strother, Principal of Windfern High School in Houston, who expelled a 17-year-old student for refusing to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. (Memo to Principal Strother: 75 years ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled that American schoolchildren have the constitutional right not to recite the pledge).

– The Starkville, Mississippi Board of Alderman, who rejected an application for a parade permit on behalf of Starkville Pride, an LGBT support group, for what was to be the town’s first ever gay-pride parade.

Freedom of speech: It’s not just a good idea.  It’s the law.

 

 

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