The 2003 Jefferson Muzzle Awards

“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.” — Thomas Jefferson, 1787

ConstitutionWhile it comes as no surprise to many of my friends and acquaintances, let me state it for the record: I am a First Amendment absolutist. While, as a rule, I try to avoid seeing issues in black-and-white terms, here is one where I find little room for compromise. So I took particular enjoyment in the announcement (on April 13, the anniversary of Jefferson’s birth) of this year’s Jefferson Muzzles by The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. Since 1992, the “awards” recognize those individuals who have done the most to hinder the exercise of free speech in the United States (recipients receive either a T-shirt or commemorative certificate, at their option).

The 2003 winners comprise some notable figures, including Mayor Tom Bates of Berkeley (for stealing and disposing of more than 1,000 copies of The Daily Californian, a student newspaper that had endorsed his opponent), the Tennessee Arts Commission (for rescinding an exhibition invitation to artist Ernie Sandidge based on an unconstitutional “no nudes” policy), and the 107th U.S. Congress (for the horrific Section 215 of the disingenuously named USA Patriot Act). But most prominent on the list (gee, who ever would have guessed?) is the most overtly fascistic member of the Bush regime, John Ashcroft (for offenses too numerous to mention).

AshcroftThe iteration of Ashcroft’s attempts to quash the First Amendment reads like the listing of charges against a tinpot dictator. I remember fondly the campaign against his approval for the Attorney General post. At the time, perfectly valid arguments were made that he should not be discriminated against because of his extremist religious beliefs. Unfortunately, the equally valid arguments against him based on his record fell on deaf ears. And now, even were we to be rid of him, we would be stuck with his despotic legacy. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if this weblog entry gets me a call from the Secret Police (“What exactly did you mean by ‘be rid of him’?”). It drives home the necessity for the proverbial “eternal vigilance” (I know that I, for one, will never obey any form of “gag order” not entered into of my own volition).

Congratulations on your awards, folks. I know I’ll do everything in my power to make sure everyone recognizes you for your works.


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