On April 13, 1743, 263 years and one day ago, Thomas Jefferson was born. Rumor has it that it was several days later that a delegation from Fairfax County was the first to call the infant “Mr. Jefferson.”
I have made something of a semiannual practice of observing Mr. Jefferson’s birthday with an assortment of pithy quotes and other reflections (see 2005, 2003), but increasingly the part that strikes the most resonant chord for me is the Jefferson Muzzles awards, given annually on their namesake’s birthday to individuals or organizations who “who in the past year forgot or disregarded Mr. Jefferson’s admonition that freedom of speech ‘cannot be limited without being lost.’” This year there is a podcast of the award ceremony, along with thirteen lucky recipients, including President Bush for the secret wiretaps, the DOJ for abridging the privacy of virtually every web user, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin for proposing that the government take away our choice of viewing and listening material in the name of “decency,” and ten other deserving cases. It should be noted that the Muzzles are no merely liberal mouthpiece: students who heckled Ann Coulter’s speech slamming Cindy Sheehan at the University of Connecticut are awarded a Muzzle, as is a Florida school superintendant who apparently forced the resignation of a teacher for writing an anti-immigration letter to the newspaper.