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Thu Apr 27, 2017, 11:17 AM

Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression Announces the 2017 Jefferson Muzzles

Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression

The Jefferson Muzzles



Since 1992, the Thomas Jefferson Center has celebrated the birth and ideals of its namesake by calling attention to those who would censor free expression.

Announced on or near April 13—the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson—the Jefferson Muzzles are awarded 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.”

Because the importance and value of free expression extend far beyond the First Amendment’s limit on government censorship, acts of private censorship are not spared consideration for the dubious honor of receiving a Muzzle.

Unfortunately, each year the finalists for the Jefferson Muzzles have emerged from an alarmingly large group of candidates. For each recipient, a dozen could have been substituted. Further, an examination of previous Jefferson Muzzle recipients reveals that the disregard of First Amendment principles is not the byproduct of a particular political outlook but rather that threats to free expression come from all over the political spectrum.

2017 Jefferson Muzzles

THE ADMINISTRATION OF BOCA RATON COMMUNITY HIGH SCHOOL (FLORIDA)

In 2016, eighteen-year-old Maxine Yeakle was a student at Boca Raton Community High School in Boca Raton, Florida. Maxine was now old enough to vote in her first presidential election and, as with many people in the United States in 2016, she had strong feelings about who would make the best president—and who would not. Maxine expressed her views on this issue by wearing to school a T-shirt emblazoned with “Hillary for Prison.” A number of Maxine’s classmates took issue with the T-shirt’s message and loudly expressed their opposition in class, even after a teacher warned them to stop.

In her next class, the assistant principal had Maxine removed from class and informed her that she either needed to change into another shirt or receive an in-school suspension for violating the school’s dress code policy. That policy prohibits “attire or grooming which substantially or potentially disrupts the educational environment” and provides the Principal with the authority to decide on what violates the policy and what doesn’t. When faced with the duty to balance the student’s right to free expression with the need to maintain an orderly classroom environment, the Boca Raton Community High School administration placed a thumb on the “order” side of the scale, completely disregarding Maxine’s rights. It wasn’t Maxine’s T-shirt that disrupted class, it was the loud verbal opposition of the students who objected to the T-shirt’s message. Unlike Maxine, those students were not threatened with any sort of disciplinary action despite having been told by a teacher to stop.

Through the way they responded to this incident, the administration sent the completely wrong messages to its students. Regardless of whom one supports in an election campaign, participation in our democratic system should be encouraged. By punishing Maxine’s peaceful, non-disruptive engagement in the first presidential election in which she could vote, the school did exactly the opposite. Second, by punishing Maxine but not the students who were actually disrupting the class, the school sent a message that hecklers have the right to veto speech they don’t like, when they ought to be encouraging respect for the individual right of free speech. For teaching the wrong lessons about the rights and responsibilities of free speech, a 2017 Jefferson Muzzle goes to the Boca Raton Community High School Administration.

THE STATE GOVERNMENT OF ILLINOIS

THE CALIFORNIA STATE LEGISLATURE AND GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN

FLORIDA’S COLLIER COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT

THE UNITED STATES SENATE

BRADLEY COUNTY (TENNESSEE) SHERIFF ERIC WATSON

THE UNITED STATES OLYMPIC COMMITTEE

THE PIERCE COLLEGE ADMINISTRATION AND THE LOS ANGELES COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT

NORTH CAROLINA’S CUMBERALND COUNTY SCHOOL SUPERINTNENDENT FRANK TILL, JR.

If I post a picture of the t-shirt worn by the student in Boca Raton, someone will alert on this thread.

Muzzle Awards take aim at 'unnoticed' attacks on free speech

BY DEREK QUIZON 12 hrs ago

The recent wave of controversies over far-right speakers on college campuses shows that the debate over free speech — one of America’s founding values — is alive and well in the country’s education system.

The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression always has placed itself in the center of this debate. Last year, it gave its annual Muzzle Awards — a dubious honor that goes to the people and organizations that tried to censor or silence others — to 50 colleges that had stifled free expression.

Josh Wheeler, director of the center, said this year there was “no real theme” for the Muzzles, which examined incidents from 2016. But the majority of the cases highlighted by the center involved local government or school districts — things that aren’t necessarily reported nationally.
....

Derek Quizon is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7265, dquizon@dailyprogress.com or @DPHigherEd on Twitter.

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