Wringing the freedom bell

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

A mob of Ivy League students and a cluster of federal judges have been granted the dubious honor of being named tops in undermining free speech and free expression in New England.

The fourth-annual Muzzle Awards from the Boston Phoenix, which are deliberately announced just before Independence Day, also tapped a mayor and an ex-governor, among others, for its Top 10 list of “anti-free-speech zealots.”

“Despite living in a culture in which freedom of speech and personal liberties are taken for granted, censorship and repression are as strong as ever,” Dan Kennedy, the senior writer who compiles the list for the alternative weekly, told freedomforum.org.

“Singling out the most egregious examples is vital, because the public needs to understand that our basic liberties can’t be taken for granted, and that freedom is an ongoing struggle.”

Among those cited were:

  • A mob of Brown University students, who stormed the campus newspaper’s office in March and destroyed copies of an edition carrying a provocative ad denouncing slavery reparations. “A mob is a terrifying, mindless force, even when it consists of privileged Ivy League students,” the Phoenix story said, noting that free-speech rights “threatened in an academic environment only compounds the ugliness.”
  • The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, for muzzling U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner when she attempted to correct mischaracterizations of her actions in a complicated school admissions lawsuit. “Through its action, the appeals court managed to pull tighter the veil of secrecy that already surrounds our most mysterious branch of government,” the Phoenix said.
  • Mayor Lisa Mead of Newburyport, Mass., for the city’s removal of two commemorative bricks from a public walkway last year in response to residents’ complaints about religious references. The bricks, purchased by residents who had been promised their message of choice, were re-installed after the two residents sued the city this year.
  • Former Massachusetts governor Paul Cellucci, for urging, while still in office, continued subway censorship by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. The MBTA had refused to run ads from a marijuana-decriminalization group. Cellucci has won two previous Muzzles from the Phoenix, in 1998 and in 1999.

    Also on the list were Boston’s Back Bay Architectural Commission, for its upcoming ban on news boxes on the public streets of the fashionable neighborhood; Dartmouth College President James Wright, for upholding the institution’s elimination of a fraternity after it published two sophomoric newsletters; and Maine state Rep. Mary Black Andrews, R-York, who introduced a bill to establish statewide standards for obscenity. (The Maine House killed the measure by a resounding margin of 103-41.)

    The Phoenix Muzzles are regional awards, independent of the national anti-free expression Jefferson Muzzle Awards, which are given annually by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

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