Berkeley mayor’s theft, Utica principal’s censorship garner dubious honor

VIRGINIA — The top ten censors of free speech in2002 were announced April 13 by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protectionof Free Expression. While Attorney General John Ashcroft and the107th U.S. Congress topped the list for their restrictive actionsrelated to the war on terrorism, including passing the Patriot Act and denyingpublic and press access to immigration deportation hearings, two cases ofcensorship involving student newspapers were also highlighted.Utica HighSchool Principal Richard Machesky’s censorship of an article about alawsuit against the Michigan school district and Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates’theft of 1,000 copies of the campus paper at the University of California atBerkeley were among the winners of the 2003 Jefferson Muzzle.TheJefferson Muzzle is given each year on Thomas Jefferson’s birthday to callattention to affronts to free expression. Each winner receives a T-shirtfeaturing a picture of Jefferson with a muzzle on his face.The ThomasJefferson Center, a non-profit group based at the University of Virginia, usestheir awards to publicize lesser-known acts of censorship along with attentiongrabbers, such as the North Carolina House of Representatives withholding publicfunding from a program at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill because itincluded a reading on Islam for new students.Josh Wheeler, spokespersonfor the Thomas Jefferson Center, said it is not uncommon to find censors ofstudent speech on the list of Muzzle winners. This year’s list included anArkansas school board that restricted library access to Harry Potter books andan Indiana High School that withheld the salutatorian’s diploma after shegave teachers joke awards in an unapproved deviation from her graduation speech.Wheeler said the award for Machesky at Utica High School isrepresentative of the numerous cases of censorship of student journalists eachyear. The article Machesky censored from the student newspaper, theArrow, discussed a lawsuit filed by area residents who live behind theschool district’s bus depot. In the lawsuit, resident Ray Frances assertedthat exhaust fumes from idling school busses contributed to his lung cancer.Machesky pulled the article by Utica student Katy Dean stating it contained”factual inaccuracies.”Machesky defended his action in ane-mail to The Macomb Daily, a local newspaper in Michigan. ”Iexercised my responsibility and had the students delete the inaccurate andmisleading article,” he said. “I took this action knowing there would berepercussions, but I believed then and believe now that even a youngster needsto accept responsibility for [his or her] work.” However, Machesky hasnever explained what he though was inaccurate about the story.Dean hasfiled a lawsuit with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union againstUtica Community Schools, asserting that her First Amendment rights wereviolated.Wheeler said, ”Unfortunately, the student journalismexperience in public schools often involves episodes of censorship from schooladministration. It seems to happen so often that it’s just a regular partof the experience.”In Berkley, Calif., Mayor Bates initiallydenied that he had anything to do with the trashing of 1,000 copies of TheDaily Californian, which contained an editorial endorsement for his mayoralopponent Shirley Dean. After an investigation by the county prosecutor,Bates admitted his involvement and apologized. In January he pleaded guilty topetty theft and was fined $100. He also paid The Daily Californian $500in restitution.In a letter to the Thomas Jefferson Center, Bates said hemade a ”serious mistake” and he ”probably deserve[s]”the Muzzle award. Robert O’Neil, director of the Thomas JeffersonCenter and a former president of the University of Virginia and the Universityof Wisconsin, said it is important to highlight incidents of censorship becauseit challenges the assumption that attempts to censor free expression are few inthe United States. ”In fact, such acts occur every day,”O’Neil said in a news release. ”Our hope is that the JeffersonMuzzles help to dispel the complacency with which many view freespeech.”

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