Today is Thomas Jefferson's birthday, which means it is also time for presentation of the completely uncoveted Jefferson Muzzle awards by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression in Charlottesville. The awards are given to those who have committed egregious or ludicrous offenses to free expression. To get a sense of the awards, there have been only two lifetime winners in the 19-year history of the presentations: one to the Federal Communications Commission and the other to former new York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
"People don't want to be on our list," said center director Robert O'Neil with pride. He said some of the planned recipients, when they learn about their impending distinction, try to negotiate their way out. O'Neil is former president of the University of Virginia and clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr.
This year's awardees, oddly enough, recognize only one federal offender -- U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, (D-Fla.), who last October complained to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. about a parody web site called mycongressmanisnuts. The site was launched in response to his own seemingly defunct "mycongressmanhas guts" site. Grayson wanted Holder to examine possible election law violations, and suggested a prison term of five years. "Whatever the offense, that is way over the top," said O'Neil.
There were also no awards given to censorious private companies or individuals this year. The rest of the winners are state officials or agencies, including the Virginia Department of Corrections, for telling an inmate he could only listen to musical CDs, not a Christian sermon, in his cell. Southwestern College in California was cited for its "free speech patio," aimed at confining all campus protests to a small area. And then there's the Oklahoma Tax Commission, which denied a resident's request for a vanity plate "IM GAY," even though plates like "STR8SXI" have been allowed.
For all the gory details on these and many more Jefferson Muzzle awards, check out the center's web site.