A Texas principal accused of expelling a student who stayed seated during the Pledge of Allegiance and a Utah high school accused of censoring its student newspaper have been bestowed Jefferson Muzzles, tongue-in-cheek awards from a free-speech group.
The Charlottesville, Virginia-based Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression on Sunday announced the seven winners of its Muzzles, given annually to those the group deems the previous year’s most egregious offenders of free expression.
The group said in a statement that last year was a “perilous year” for free speech in the US, citing college students’ attempts to silence unpopular speakers and what it called a campaign by US President Donald Trump’s administration to “vilify and delegitimize the press.”
However, “when we look back on 2017, it will likely be remembered as a year in which both protest speech and anti-protest rhetoric simultaneously rose to levels not seen in decades,” said Clay Hansen, the center’s executive director.
The group said countless voices openly condemned unorthodox speakers last year, with former US National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protests of racial injustice during the national anthem being one high-profile example.
In Texas, Windfern High School principal Martha Strother faces a federal lawsuit by an African-American student, India Landry, and her mother, who say the high-schooler was expelled after refusing to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance.
Landry told The Daily News that she was motivated to sit through the pledge because of “police brutality” and “Donald Trump being president.”
Neither Strother nor the school district, which is also named as a plaintiff, returned messages from The Associated Press seeking comment, but an attorney for Strother said in a court filing that she denies many of the lawsuit’s allegations.
The filing said Landry was not expelled, but rather was suspended for part of a day for violating the school’s cellphone policy.
In Utah, Herriman High School nabbed the center’s attention after students said it deleted a story the school newspaper published about the firing of a teacher who was under investigation by police.
The school took the Web site offline for a time, the student journalists said.
A district spokeswoman provided a three-sentence statement about the incident that said the district supports “thought-provoking, informative and accurate reporting” and that it is the responsibility of students, advisers and administrators to make sure that stories meet those expectations.
“At all levels of government, we observed actions designed to silence unpopular and unorthodox voices, often in direct contradiction of established laws,” Hansen said.
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