It’s that time of year again, when the Thomas Jefferson Center in Charlottesville hands out Muzzle Awards to people and institutions that have attacked free expression.
It’s been a challenging year at the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, with attacks coming from all sides. Since 9/11, in fact, Director Josh Wheeler says lots of places are trashing the First Amendment.
“These attacks on the press start at the White House and go down to the statehouse and down to the school house.”
The Justice Department itself seized phone records for the Associated Press and branded a Fox News reporter a criminal co-conspirator in order to get a look at his phone records and e-mails. The National Security Agency, which collected millions of Americans’ telephone records had no sense of humor when a guy in Minnesota made T-shirts and bumper stickers with this line:
“The National Security Agency - the only part of government that actually listens”
The NSA forced the seller to remove those items from his website. At the University of Kansas, a faculty member responded to a mass shooting by blaming the National Rifle Association. He tweeted:
“The blood is on your hands NRA. I hope next time it’s your children.”
That led the Kansas Board of Regents to adopt a new policy. Henceforth, Wheeler says, people could be fired if they fit this description:
“Any person that uses social media in a way that disrupts the harmony of the university”
The state of Virginia escaped attention this year, although Wheeler says the Department of Corrections earlier earned a lifetime achievement award for squashing the rights of inmates. It’s been nearly 25 years since the center began handing out Muzzies, and Wheeler hopes people are finally getting the message.
“ Just because we have a First Amendment does not mean that we don’t have threats to free expression, and the greatest threat to free speech is when too many of us are complacent about it - that we’re willing to put up with other people’s speech being censored.”
The organization quotes Mr. Jefferson himself. “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”