The 2013 Muzzle Awards 

The worst crimes against the First Amendment

Page 4 of 4

At the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa presided over a voice vote of convention delegates to determine whether references to God and the designation of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel should be restored to the party platform. The removal of those references earlier in the convention generated a great deal of public outcry causing the Democratic National Committee to fear a backlash in the upcoming presidential election. A two-thirds majority was required to restore the references. Villaraigosa's first call for a voice vote resulted in an indistinguishable difference between the "ayes" and the "nays." After a second vote, when the delegates again appeared evenly divided, Villaraigosa consulted with a party official on stage. He then called for a third voice vote, resulting once again in an even split among the delegates. This time, however, Villaraigosa declared that the resolution had passed, essentially muzzling the voice votes of half the convention's delegates.

At the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., House Speaker John Boehner called for a voice vote to adopt new rules proposed by the campaign staff of presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, and endorsed by the Republican National Committee. The changes would make it easier for establishment candidates to dominate future conventions. Many delegates, including those supporting candidate Ron Paul, opposed the changes. After ignoring the objections of several delegates, Boehner proceeded with the vote. As with the Democratic Convention, the crowd appeared equally split among the "ayes" and "nays." Boehner nonetheless declared that the new rules had passed by the necessary margin. Amateur video footage later revealed that Boehner's teleprompter displayed the "result" of the voice vote seconds before the actual votes had been cast, suggesting that the outcome was pre-ordained by party leadership.

8. Maryland Delegate Emmett C. Burns, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alderman Joe Moreno of Chicago

In July 2012, Dan Cathy, president of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain, publicly expressed his opinion that marriage should be defined as a union of a man and a woman. Since 2009, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has publicly advocated for legalizing same-sex marriage. Despite the fact that their views on the issue are diametrically opposed, Cathy and Ayanbadejo received very similar reactions from elected officials after publicly expressing their opinions.

Cathy's comments drew the ire of mayors and other elected officials from across the country who threatened to block expansion of the franchise in their cities. Chicago Alderman Moreno threatened to use rezoning laws to block the opening of a new Chick-fil-A in his ward. "[T]here are consequences for freedom of speech," said Moreno, and "in this case, you're not going to have your first free-standing restaurant." When asked if he supported Moreno's plan to block the new restaurant, Mayor Emanuel stated, "Chick-fil-A's values are not Chicago values. They're not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members and if you're gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values." Boston Mayor Menino wrote directly to Cathy, stating "[t]here is no place for discrimination on Boston's Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it." San Francisco Mayor Lee tweeted: "Closest #ChickFilA to San Francisco is 40 miles away & I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer."

A similar controversy arose when Maryland General Assembly Delegate Emmett C. Burns, apparently dismayed by Ayanbadejo's outspoken support of marriage equality, wrote a letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti requesting that he order Ayanbadejo to stop publicly advocating for same-sex marriage. Burns' letter, written on his official government stationary, was clear that he was not writing as a private citizen, but as "a Delegate to the Maryland General Assembly and a Baltimore Ravens fan." Burns asked that Bisciotti "take the necessary action . . . to inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious action."

In fairness, it should be noted that the elected officials discussed here do not appear to have taken any actual retaliatory action against Cathy or Ayanbadejo. In fact, in the days that followed their initial statements, the officials conceded that the First Amendment prohibited their taking any such steps. Yet their concessions beg the question of why these officials didn't know this in the first place? A citizen's right to speak on the political issues of the day, free from government retaliation, is the very heart of the First Amendment.

click to enlarge Mayors from Boston to Chicago to San Francisco chastised restaurant chain Chick-fil-A last year when company president Dan Cathy publicly voiced opposition to same-sex marriage.
  • Mayors from Boston to Chicago to San Francisco chastised restaurant chain Chick-fil-A last year when company president Dan Cathy publicly voiced opposition to same-sex marriage.

9. U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, Chair, House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources

Maria Gunnoe is a West Virginia mining activist, the recipient of many awards including the 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize (the so-called "Green Nobel"), and a tireless advocate for the people of southern Appalachia. She has, on several occasions, been asked to testify on issues involving mountaintop-removal coal mining before Congress, a body that she considered largely unreceptive to her message. Thus, when Gunnoe was invited by Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado to testify before the Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee he chairs, she wondered what she could do to more effectively make her case. Adopting the old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words, Gunnoe decided to provide the subcommittee with a visual aida photo by award-winning photojournalist Katie Falkenberg depicting a 5-year-old West Virginia girl bathing in murky orange water, the result of runoff from a nearby mountaintop-removal project.

When Gunnoe arrived on Capitol Hill, she was informed by a member of Lamborn's staff that the photograph was "inappropriate" and that she could not display it during her testimony. Adding insult to injury, at the conclusion of her testimony, Gunnoe was approached by a U.S. Capitol Police officer who escorted her into a side room where the 44-year-old grandmother was questioned for almost an hour based on an anonymous tip that Gunnoe might be in possession of child pornography.

Gunnoe emailed the image to Lamborn's office two hours before the hearing was scheduled to begin. Lamborn denies ever having seen the photograph himself, but told The Denver Post that a member of his staff "had a serious question about whether [the image was] appropriate or not." Based solely on that staffer's recommendation, Lamborn ordered that the photo be removed from Gunnoe's presentation. There is no indication that anyone other than Lamborn's staff ever viewed the image prior to Gunnoe's detention by Capitol Police.

The censoring of a congressional witness is bad enough, but to then smear her name with allegations of child pornography is simply reprehensible. Lamborn, however, remains unmoved. "I'm not going to issue an apology, and I don't think the staff members involved are going to issue an apology," he said, adding, "I think this woman should consider what . . . she brings to hearings."

Lamborn's blind reliance on a staff member's objection resulted in silencing a significant element of Gunnoe's testimony regarding the effects of mountaintop-removal mining. As Gunnoe sees it, "they didn't have anything else in mind other than stopping that photograph from being seen. And it wasn't because the little girl didn't have a shirt on. It was because she was bathing in mine waste."

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