Each year the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression serves up its “Muzzle Awards” for attempts to limit free speech. This year’s selection is a doozy; there are eight but I’ll just highlight a few.
- In October of 2010, the Smithsonian Institution put up an exhibit on gender identity and sexuality. One video, by David Wojnarowicz, an artist dying of AIDS, featured a shot of ants crawling up a crucifix. After fervent protests by Catholic League president Bill Donohue, the Smithsonian removed the video the next day.
The Jefferson’s center commented thus:
Although there have been conflicting reports about who initially suggested removing the video, it is clear that the decision was ultimately approved by Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough. The incredibly short period between Donohue’s criticism and Secretary Clough’s capitulation is puzzling because it was surely anticipated that some might object to ‘Hide/Seek’ because of its subject matter of the gay and lesbian experience in modern society. In a commentary on the incident, staff writer Philip Kennicott of the Washington Post wrote, “Clough’s decision, made hastily and, it seems, over the objections of his curators…showed an astonishing lack of perception about the humanities as well as the dynamics of museum culture.”
- A Mississippi judge jailed an attorney for refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in his courtroom. The attorney was standing but refused to mouth the words. It’s unconstitutional for anyone to force a citizen to recite the Pledge, especially in school. The Mississippi Supreme court is weighing issuing a reprimand to the judge.
- As the Center notes, “On December 30th, twenty-one-year-old Aaron Tobey put into effect a plan he devised to protest the invasion of privacy he felt the new security measures represented. In preparation for a trip from Richmond, Virginia, to Cincinnati, Ohio, Tobey used a marker to write the text of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution (which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by the government) on his bare chest, with the intention of displaying both his chest and the amendment to the folks manning the security checkpoint at Richmond International Airport. When he reached the conveyor belt, Tobey removed not only his shoes, but also his shirt and sweatpants. As he stood attired only in the Fourth Amendment and a pair of running shorts, he was detained by the TSA and then arrested, handcuffed, questioned, and charged with disorderly conduct.”
Tobey was charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, but the charges were later dropped by the Henrico County Attorney since Tobey’s actions did not constitute a crime.
I really abhor the way the TSA runs its show. Yes, we may need better screening, but my personal experience is that these people behave like bullies, yelling and ordering people about. They are too enamored of their own power.
These incidents may seem trivial (do read about the five others, which are equally distressing), but unless we protect our constitutional rights when they’re threatened even this minimally, we’re enabling even greater erosion of our freedom of expression.