Nemesis List: Free Speech Violators

Go ahead, America, feel free to say what you mean. For now.

Pull that tape off your mouth and say what needs to be said. Exercising the First Amendment is the best way to keep it alive. (Photo: Baz Ratner/Reuters)

Apr 12, 2012
Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

Subject: First Amendment Deniers.

Occupation: Assaulting the Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression that, to take the words out of Walter Cronkite’s mouth, “is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”

Crime: Pouring weak sauce on what passes for a vigorous exchange of thought in the United States of America.

Experience: Notable “Free Speech Fights” span American history and are ongoing. In the early 1900s, local government and business authorities directed intense violence against efforts of the International Workers of the World to organize labor. In the 1960s, University of California, Berkeley students went on strike until the university administration lifted a ban on on-campus political activities, triggering a decade-long Free Speech Movement. If there is one thing history shows, it’s that all victories in the fight for Free Speech are temporary wins.

The Nemesis of the Nemesis: Crackpots, contrarians and freethinkers everywhere—and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

How the Nemesis Is Fought: By outliers insisting that far-from-center opinions and perceptions be expressed, by minority reporters who present views counter to the mainstream, by free speech attorneys and advocates such as the ACLU that fight to maintain a flow of unpopular speech, and by the Thomas Jefferson Center, which presents annual “Muzzle” awards to individuals and authorities that commit flagrant fouls against free thought.

Muzzle Number One: The Florida legislature and Governor Rick Scott for enacting the Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act, a law that restricts what Florida doctors are allowed to discuss with their patients about guns and gun safety.

Muzzle Number Two: The U.S. State Department for canceling Palestinian cartoonist Majed Badra’s invitation to attend a conference focusing on the importance of free speech and a free press. The State Department determined Badra was unworthy of attendance because it considered some of his cartoons offensive.

Muzzle Number Three: Joe Kirk, a professor at Texas’s Sam Houston State University, for using a box cutter to remove the phrase “f*ck Obama” from a campus “free speech wall.” Kirk left approximately 100 other f*cks complete on the wall, but the f*cks didn’t stay for long. Reacting to Kirk’s box-cutter censorship, campus police ordered students to remove every f*ck from the free-speech wall or face disorderly conduct charges. Rather than comply, the students erased the entire free-speech wall.

Muzzle Number the Rest: The Norfolk, Virginia, police department for arresting and prosecuting a citizen who filmed a cop sitting in a police car. The Salem, Missouri, public library’s board of trustees for blocking Wiccan, Native American spiritual, yoga, meditation and astrology websites as “occult” or “criminal.” North Carolina’s Catawba Valley Community College for expelling a student who used Facebook to criticize the school’s part in pushing a CVCC-branded Debit MasterCard.

Muzzle the Full List: Take a look at the complete collection of Thomas Jefferson Muzzle winners. Do you see any Muzzle designees that don’t seem to have committed a violation? Do you recall any travesties against Free Speech from the past year that were missed? Leave it in comments.

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