An award no school should celebrate – Jefferson Center Muzzles “honor” a year of unnecessary censorship

To celebrate its namesake’s birthday, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression at the University of Virginia today released the names of the recipients of the 2010 Jefferson Muzzles, a dubious “honor” awarded to those who have inhibited free speech and expression during the past year.

Two of the Center’s “honorees” limited student speech in public schools. One, the West Fargo School Board, removed newspaper adviser Jeremy Murphy after questioning his leadership role for the paper. Murphy told the SPLC in June 2009 that the school board wanted him to control the paper, not advise it, and his impression was confirmed by e-mails among school administrators complaining about the paper’s coverage of controversial topics.

Murphy received an honorable mention in January for a Tully Center for Free Speech Award for facing obstacles to his free speech.

Another Muzzle recipient was Orange High School Principal S.K. Johnson from California.  When Johnson discovered copies of the student publication PULP, he confiscated them, saying that the cover story, featuring a back tattoo and headline in “Old English” font, evoked gang imagery.

The Associated Press’ Zinie Chen Sampson pointed out that none of the awardees are “corporations or other private entities as in past years – all are government and school officials.”  The First Amendment Center also noted that “censorship in public schools” was a recurring theme among this year’s Muzzle winners.