2010 Muzzle Awards 

The year's 10 worst crimes against the First Amendment

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Administration of Southwestern College

Southwestern College in Chula Vista, Calif., so cherishes its students' and faculty's right to express themselves that it has designated a special "free speech patio" for that purpose. Reserve the patio in advance, and complain all you want. Don't stay, however, if you want to avoid dire consequences. Just ask three sanctioned professors.

Last October, protesters originally assembled at the free speech patio to decry cuts to classes and funding. They then spontaneously marched to President Raj Chopra's office, where a line of campus police awaited them. The president's office was empty, the professors drifted away, and the crowd dispersed.

That night, however, each professor got a surprise visit at home: a cop and the director of human resources. The latter bore a letter that placed the professors on administrative leave and banned them from the campus and its resources, including e-mail, until their presence at the rally had been investigated fully.

Southwestern spokesman Chris Bender explains, "This campus is covered with posters expressing people's views—we make no attempt to take those down. Those are not the actions of a college that limits free speech. The issue at hand was public safety, and it's a shame the Jefferson Center has confused protecting free speech with protecting people from getting hurt."

Nonetheless, "for promulgating and enforcing a policy limiting even peaceful and non-disruptive protests to a designated 'free speech' patio," Southwestern College gets a Muzzle.

Orange High School, and the West Fargo School Board

According to his accounts, S.K. Johnson, a California high school principal, found a pre-release copy of Pulp, the final project of the school's journalism class. The cover pictured a bare back tattooed with "PULP" in Old English type and a panther, the school's mascot. It related to a story inside about tattoo trends around the predominantly Hispanic campus. Also inside was a list of things to do before graduation, such as skinny dip. After a custodian purportedly saw Johnson with the magazine and asked if he was reading one of those "gang-tattoo magazines," Johnson ordered all 300 copies to be confiscated and locked in his closet. "It was not an easy decision," he told a local newspaper, "but we have an image of our school that I want to uphold."

The trouble is, California's law against censoring school publications requires people like Johnson to prove the publication is "obscene, libelous or slanderous" or "so incites pupils as to create a clear and present danger" to the law or orderly conduct of school. After a state senator and legal groups complained, Johnson let Pulp out of his closet—in July.

In Fargo, N.D., a similar drama unfolded. Jeremy Murphy of West Fargo High School seems like "Glee"'s Mr. Shue, except he orchestrates the student news, rather than show choir. Former students raved about his advising of the yearbook and the school newspaper The Packer, which under his stewardship won regional awards for best overall school newspaper and journalist of the year.

Yet all that ballyhoo quickly became boo-hoo. A student editorial in May 2009 criticized the school administration for decision-making that "shows a lack of restraint and consideration from administration officials to gauge the outcome of the people being affected. More time should be spent contemplating and going over the issues with those involved rather than jumping hastily into action." Ouch. Such rhetoric and pesky reporting had become too much for the administration, which sacked Murphy for a "difference in philosophy."

Although schools do walk a fine line between maintaining an educational environmental and protecting students' rights, the West Fargo School Board and S. K. Johnson share a Muzzle "for actions that reveal little regard for teaching First Amendment principles."

Puerto Rico Department of Education

Profanity and sex allegedly led to the removal of five books from the U.S. territory's 11th-grade Spanish curriculum and school libraries.

In September, Puerto Rico's Department of Education (DOE) banned the books by reputable authors because of crude language. Among the banned books was Aura by Mexican author Carlos Fuentes, who is widely regarded as on of Latin America's most prominent contemporary authors. Gov. Luis Fortuño, backing up his DOE, claimed, "The books are not being banned," rather the DOE is determining "at which level they can be read."

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Under pressure, the DOE reconsidered four of the five banned works after a "revision" to remove the vulgarity. It's not clear, however, who's doing the revising and how, or who even promulgated the bans in the first place. But even changes to language can't redeem a memoir by Juan Antonio Ramos, which the DOE will not reconsider. Said a DOE spokesman to a local news organization, "You can have good books with bad words, because they reflect the reality out there. But this book can be a screenplay for a porn movie."

As the TJ Center says, "banning venerated literary works on a vague premise of age-level inappropriateness is unacceptable." Hence, the Muzzle.

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