Thursday, April 13, 2017

From the Archives: Thomas Jefferson Center announces 2010 Muzzle Awards

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on April 13, 2010. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Thomas Jefferson Center announces 2010 Muzzle Awards
April 13, 2010 12:37 AM MST

Thomas Jefferson free expression Muzzle Awards Charlottesville Rick Sincere
Each year since 1992, the Charlottesville-based Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression ( has presented the "Jefferson Muzzle Awards" to individuals or entities that have most egregiously offended freedom of speech and of expression. For the most part, award winners have been city or state governments or government agencies at every level, from Capitol Hill to school districts.

Today's announcement of the Muzzles coincides with Thomas Jefferson's birthday. He was born near Charlottesville on April 13, 1743.

Top 2010 Winner

The top winner for 2010 is U.S. Representative Alan Grayson of Florida, who tried to get the U.S. Attorney General to prosecute some of his constituents who made fun of him on a web site. Reacting to Grayson's complaint, the Thomas Jefferson Center wrote:

"Rep. Grayson’s urging the U.S. Attorney General to seek a 5 year prison sentence against a vocal critic for minor transgressions that, even if proven, clearly merits censure. The right to criticize public officials without fear of government reprisal is a fundamental component of the First Amendment. As such, elected officials should both expect and tolerate criticism."

Virginia's Winner
Although not as high up on the list, the Virginia Department of Corrections was also a Muzzle Award winner this year.

In this case (ranked ninth on the list of ten top winners), prison officials denied an inmate access to a CD recording of a religious sermon called "Life Without a Cross." The Department of Corrections was criticized by others at the time, including editorial writers for the Charlottesville Daily Progress, but the Thomas Jefferson Center's criticism was sharp:

" is difficult to see what purpose is served by a blanket policy censoring all spoken word CD’s while allowing musical CD’s. Indeed, it would seem that many spoken CD’s might better serve to encourage good behavior on the part of prisoners both while they are serving their sentences and after they are released."

The award citation notes that, in the months since this situation came to light, the Department of Corrections has changed its policy but -- as the Muzzle citation notes -- "there is nothing to bind the Department to staying on this course"

Other 2010 Muzzles
Another eight winners were cited as deserving of 2010 Jefferson Muzzle Awards, including the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, for censoring a nostalgic label on a wine bottle; the Oklahoma Tax Commission, for barring a driver from purchasing a vanity license tag with the phrase "IM GAY," claiming the words are "offensive"; and the Texas State Legislature, "for "denying motion picture production companies tax breaks if their proposed movies portray Texas or Texans in a negative fashion."

The full list of 2010 winners, plus archives of past Muzzle recipients, can be seen on the web site of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

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