The Muzzle Awards have been chronicling the worst Free Speech violations for a decade. Here are some of the lowlights from the past 10 years.
Click on the year to read the full article.
1998: The Federal Communications Commission was the target of the very first Muzzle Award after it closed Radio Free Allston — an unlicensed, low-power community radio station (its founder, Steve Provizer, eschewed the term “pirate”) that had been commended by the Boston City Council for its local programming.
1999: Then-governor Paul Cellucci won the second of his three Muzzles for shutting down a political-action committee formed by prison inmates and for pushing legislation to strip prisoners of the right to vote — a bill that eventually became law. Cellucci also won in 2001.
2000: US District Court judge Edward Harrington was singled out for ruling that a piece of software that defeated an anti-porn filtering program called Cyber Patrol was illegal, and ordering it removed from the Internet. It didn’t matter to Harrington that Cyber Patrol also prevented users from accessing sex-education sites and numerous other legitimate sources of information.
2001: The Back Bay Architectural Commission was presented with a coveted Muzzle for banning all those unsightly news boxes — and all that unsightly news — from the tony streets and sidewalks of its neighborhood.
2002: The wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow — but grind they do. The Massachusetts Department of Education won a Muzzle for canceling a speech by standardized-testing critic Alfie Kohn. Five years later, a state court ordered the department to pay Kohn’s $155,000 worth of legal fees, the cost of defending his First Amendment rights.
2003: The Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island, took 100 lives. Timothy Williamson, a state legislator who also served as West Warwick’s appointed town counsel, compounded the tragedy by refusing to release public records sought by the media, including fire-safety inspection reports.
2004: City officials in Augusta, Maine, had no problem with demonstrators protesting against the war in Iraq — as long as they paid up. Financially strapped anti-war groups were told they’d have to pay $11,800 for the privilege of exercising their First Amendment rights in the state capital. The fee was eventually thrown out in federal court.
2005: US District Court judge Douglas Woodlock proved far more adept at saying the right thing than at doing it. Appalled by plans to restrict protesters at the 2004 Democratic National Convention to a tiny pen surrounded by razor wire, the judge likened it to “a concentration camp.” Then he approved it.
2006: It’s not that the MBTA couldn’t be targeted by terrorists. But a policy banning anyone from photographing streetcars, buses, or any other part of the system without permission was absurd, and ignored the reality of what amateur photographers do every day. Go to Flickr and have a look for yourself.