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Muzzle Awards (continued)

Back Bay Architectural Commission
Keeping the streets news-free


Have you ever noticed how parking meters clash with the historical nature of the Back Bay? For that matter, what about cars? There weren’t any in the late 19th century, when the swampy flatlands first were filled in and Boston’s most fashionable neighborhood came into being.

No one, though, is proposing that parking meters, cars, power lines, telephones, air conditioners, laptop computers, or skim-milk lattes be banned in the name of historical accuracy. What are being banned are news boxes — an important tool for distributing newspapers, magazines, and other publications, and in some cases just about the only tool available.

In May, the Back Bay Architectural Commission voted to ban all news boxes from the neighborhood, encompassing an area from Boylston Street to Storrow Drive, and from Arlington Street to Charlesgate East. The ban will take effect on August 9. The regulation was enacted in the name of removing eyesores. But the real, if unintended, target was free speech.

Dishonorable Mentions

IT WAS A year, unfortunately, when we at Muzzle Central had an embarrassment of riches through which to sift. Here are a few notable cases that didn’t make the cut — the first, and (we hope) the last, Dishonorable Mentions.

• Bristol County district attorney Paul Walsh had a terrible situation on his hands last August. Rebecca Corneau, a member of an extremist Christian sect, was about to give birth, and he suspected that she had let her previous baby, Jeremiah, choke to death shortly after birth rather than suction his lungs, on the theory that his suffocating was " God’s will. " So Walsh paid a visit to Attleboro juvenile-court judge Kenneth Nasif, who agreed that Corneau should be locked up until her baby was born. Walsh and Nasif were admittedly in a difficult position. But by choosing the most coercive methods at their disposal, they not only infringed on Corneau’s personal liberty, but on her First Amendment freedom-of-religion rights as well.

• When Al Gore named Joe Lieberman as his running mate, the US senator from Connecticut became the first New Englander to serve on a national ticket since 1988. Lieberman’s humor and foreign-policy expertise stood him in good stead. But he referred to his and others’ religiosity so fervently and so often that he made nonbelievers feel distinctly uncomfortable; at one point he even had to apologize for suggesting that nonbelievers can’t be moral. And he’s made a career out of castigating the alleged immorality of popular culture, which brought him into conflict not only with the First Amendment, but with the fundraising priorities of Gore himself.

• In January, students in an auto-body-shop class at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School, in Fitchburg, were asked to fill out a survey regarding their likes and dislikes about the school. They were assured their answers would remain anonymous. But when five students wrote down comments that were racially insensitive ( " we don’t like minorities " and " minorities cause trouble " were reportedly among the offending remarks), they were tracked down, exposed, and suspended. " If we err, we err on the side of caution. We cannot turn a blind eye to circumstance which may evidence greater problems, " said superintendent-director Stratos Dukakis, thus defending his decision to violate the students’ privacy and free-speech rights.

• This past winter, Beverly High School junior Elizabeth Mueller wrote a letter to the student newspaper, the Ledger, complaining that her honors English class wasn’t challenging enough. Mueller’s letter was published in the in-school version of the paper. But when principal Bill Foye saw it, he demanded that it be removed from the version that is included with the local community weekly, the Beverly Citizen. According to the Salem Evening News, Foye killed the letter because it amounted to an evaluation of a teacher’s performance. " I wish we had had the conversation earlier, before it came out, " Foye said.

• Massachusetts attorney general Tom Reilly took on open-records advocates in the spring of 2000, persuading the House leadership to include in its budget a rule that would have allowed public agencies and boards to deny access to documents relating to their lawyers’ work. The proposed rule never made it into law, and Reilly, fortunately, later claimed to have seen the error of his ways. According to the Boston Globe, he told the Massachusetts Publishers Association late last year, " It was a clumsy attempt on my part to amend the public-records law.... In the end I got what I deserved: nothing. "

• Rhode Island state senator Daniel Issa, a Central Falls Democrat, filed a bill early this year that would require schoolchildren to recite the preamble to the Rhode Island Constitution every day. According to the ACLU, the proposal amounted to little more than a back-door attempt to introduce school prayer, since the preamble includes references to " Almighty God " and seeks God’s blessing for the state.

• Paula Werme, a Boscawen, New Hampshire, lawyer, had unusual license plates: they read " H8DCYF, " or Hate-DCYF, a jibe at the state’s Division for Children, Youth, and Families, an agency with which she had frequently battled. Last November, though, Division of Motor Vehicles director Virginia Beecher revoked the plates, ruling that they were offensive and that they violated regulations regarding vanity plates. " This is a very troubling issue, " Claire Ebel, executive director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, told the Associated Press. " It is the attempt of a government agency to censor the speech of a citizen, and there must be a compelling reason for the agency to do that. "

— Dan Kennedy


Freedom of the press doesn’t count for much if the press can’t get its message out. For large, paid-circulation daily newspapers such as the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, news boxes are a vital supplement to other means of distribution such as home delivery and newsstand sales. For free publications such as the Phoenix, its sister publication Stuff@Night, the Tab, the Improper Bostonian, and Metro, news boxes are the primary method of delivery.

This is not a matter of special pleading. The public streets are an extension of the traditional public square, the place where pamphleteers and polemicists compete in Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s “marketplace of ideas.” Yes, news boxes can be messy, but democracy is messy. The fuddy-duddies who serve on the architectural commission seek a public square as tidy as what once existed in the former East Germany.

Some supporters of the ban, such as district city councilor Mike Ross, say the news boxes will be replaced by “condominiums” that will hold a variety of publications, but will be less unsightly than news boxes. But the efficacy of such an arrangement is unproven; and in any case, there has been little or no movement on the condominium front, making it likely that there will be neither news boxes nor condominiums when August 9 comes around. As Ross recently admitted to the Phoenix, “We may have a proposal ready to go, but it may not be able to be implemented until spring 2002.”

A particularly outspoken opponent of the news-box ban is WBZ Radio talk-show host David Brudnoy, a Back Bay resident, who wrote to the commission that the boxes “provide a needed service both to the residents of the Back Bay, among them me, and to the purveyors of information and opinion.”

Unfortunately for the public, the ban is likely to stand: in 1996, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a similar ban on Beacon Hill passed constitutional muster.

Mary Black Andrews
An obscene anti-obscenity bill

Call it the six-dildo rule.

Earlier this year, Maine state representative Mary Black Andrews, a Republican from York, filed a bill to define and outlaw obscenity. In 1973 the US Supreme Court ruled that the definition of obscenity should be left up to local communities; Andrews’s bill would have established statewide standards. "I think we should protect free speech," she said at a legislative hearing. "But I also think we should protect our young."

When it comes to constitutional liberties, there’s always a "but" with people such as Andrews, whose bill was similar to a referendum question that had been rejected by Maine voters in 1986. Her anti-freedom agenda was exposed by one of her allies, Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, who said at the same hearing, "While sex is a good, God-ordained human activity, lust is not." In Heath’s world, it’s okay to get it on as long as you don’t enjoy it.

Andrews’s proposal was not popular with her colleagues or with the media and public librarians, who feared they would be caught up in disputes over what’s obscene and what isn’t. Nevertheless, the measure was fascinating for what it revealed about the obsessions of Maine’s religious right, which has managed to turn a generally tolerant state into a place where such common-sense measures as gay and lesbian rights are in constant peril.

Take, for instance, another of her allies, the Christian Coalition of Maine, which trudges on despite the virtual collapse of the national organization. Its Web site is chock full of pleas for members to write to their legislators in support of bills such as Andrews’s, and to fight against measures such as a domestic-partner registry in Portland. "Say a loud ‘NO’ to taxpayer funding of benefits for adultery, fornication, sodomy, and homosexuality," screams one admonition.

But there is an entertaining side to Andrews’s anti-obscenity proposal. And that’s where the six-dildo rule comes in. Among other things, the bill would regulate "obscene devices," which are defined as "a 3-dimensional object, such as a dildo or artificial vagina, designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs." Now, if you’ve got one, or two, or five, you’re okay. But anyone who possesses "6 or more identical or similar obscene materials or devices is presumed to possess them with the intent to promote them." And that would be against the law.

The mind truly reels at the possibilities inherent in such a proposal. Would it be okay to possess, say, four manual dildos and four battery-powered models on the theory that they would slip in under the "identical or similar" rule? Would police hold a "Dildo Amnesty Day" so that folks could discard their excess sex toys without fear of arrest?

Not to worry: the Maine House killed the measure by a resounding margin of 103-41. But beware. Mary Black Andrews remains at large.

John Silber
Calls for silencing NAMBLA


The North American Man-Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA, exists to promote a bizarre, offensive, and harmful proposal: that age-of-consent laws outlawing sexual contact between adults and children be repealed.

In 1997, a 10-year-old Cambridge boy named Jeffrey Curley was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by two monsters, Charles Jaynes and Salvatore Sicari, who lured him to their car by promising him a new bicycle. NAMBLA literature was found in Jaynes’s possession.

The Curley family, in their unimaginable grief, filed a $200 million lawsuit against NAMBLA in US District Court, claiming that the organization — in the words of one affidavit submitted in support of their case — is "a quasi school for training its members on how to profile children, how to gain the confidence of children for the purpose of sex and how to have sex with children without detection by law enforcement or the children’s parents."

But as ACLU of Massachusetts lawyer John Reinstein, who is assisting NAMBLA with its defense, put it, "I think it is fair to say that most people disagree with NAMBLA and that many would find its publications offensive. Regardless of whether people agree with or abhor NAMBLA’s views, holding the organization responsible for crimes committed by others who read their materials would gravely endanger important First Amendment freedoms."

Certainly no one can blame the Curley family for seeking justice wherever they think they can find it. And no one can blame their lawyer, Lawrence Frisoli, who is simply doing his job.

But what can one make of Boston University chancellor John Silber? The former BU president spent his entire career in academia, where freedom of speech and of inquiry is a central part of the mission. Of course, veteran Silber-watchers would be the first to note that he never seemed to like academic freedom all that much, making life difficult for student journalists and putting up with little in the way of faculty dissent. And now that Silber is semi-retired, he can indulge his proclivity for censorship to his heart’s content.

In an op-ed piece for the Boston Herald on June 1, Silber argued that the suit is justified on its merits. "Jeffrey’s family is suing NAMBLA as contributors to the murder of their son," Silber wrote. "The ACLU says this is purely a question of free speech and association. Since the [NAMBLA] Web site provided information on how best to accomplish statutory rape, it is hard to see how this can be so. In making this argument, the ACLU has abandoned common sense.... A member of NAMBLA visited its Web site and then took part in the murder and rape of a 10-year-old child. Who would give such a group civil immunity from the consequences of its acts?"

Silber should know better. Perhaps someone should ask him whether Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita should be banned from literature courses at BU because someone might get the idea that it’s okay for middle-aged professors to have sex with underage students. Or whether he would support a lawsuit against CEO Jeff Bezos for selling Ed Rosenthal’s Marijuana Grower’s Handbook, which offers step-by-step instructions on how to do something that could land you in prison for many years. And while we’re at it, why not haul Ice-T in for all the police officers who’ve died since "Cop Killer" was released?

Freedom of expression was given constitutional protection because it’s hard. It’s especially difficult to defend the right of a group such as NAMBLA to push for the legalization of sex between adults and kids, and, worse, to offer tips.

But, after all, the First Amendment isn’t needed for the easy cases. Silber apparently forgot that.

Paul Cellucci
Ex-governor enters Hall of Shame photo

After having been dishonored with Muzzles in 1998 and 1999, the right honorable ambassador to Canada becomes our first three-time winner and thus the first inductee into our Hall of Shame. The former governor will not be eligible for future Muzzles on the theory that it’s unfair to expect others to compete against someone with such an awe-inspiring record.

Cellucci’s latest transgression against free speech took place last September. Change the Climate, a Greenfield-based group that favors the decriminalization of marijuana, sought to place $25,000 worth of ads on the MBTA’s buses, trains, and stations. One ad read, "Why do kids go to jail for doing what politicians did when they were young? Tell us the truth." Another: "I’ve got three great kids. I don’t want them to smoke pot.... But I know jail is a lot more dangerous than smoking pot."

The T rejected the ads, despite their entirely political nature. "We have an obligation to our riders," MBTA spokesman Brian Pedro told the Associated Press. "In a subway car you can’t change the channel." (Recycled-quote watch: this past March, when the T refused to run a racy ad for the movie Tomcats, Pedro told the AP: "We have a responsibility to our passengers. They can’t change the channel if they are on a bus.")

After the pot-decriminalization ads were turned down, Change the Climate lawyer Harvey Schwartz, noting that the T had lost previous lawsuits challenging its retrograde advertising policies (as when a federal court ruled that its refusal to post the AIDS Action Committee’s condom ads was unconstitutional), responded, "The MBTA is a public entity. It can’t pick and choose which political beliefs it will support and not support." And he sued.

Enter Cellucci. Last September, the then-still-governor told the Boston Herald he was insisting that the MBTA hang tough, saying, "I’m not going to settle the case. I want them to fight. Why should a government entity be forced to put up a message that may be harmful to children? That’s ridiculous."

Subway censorship wasn’t Cellucci’s only anti-free-speech action last year. Also in September, he refused to sign a bill that would have allowed condominium owners to fly flags even if their condo associations forbade it; Cellucci said he would be happy to protect Old Glory, but that was as far as he was willing to go. (You never know when someone might want to fly the hammer and sickle next to the hot tub.) Cellucci also insensitively whined that gay and lesbian advocates had "blown out of proportion" a proposal that thousands of state employees disclose whether they had ever been charged with any one of a range of sex-related crimes, including sodomy. (Earth to Cellucci: under Massachusetts’s archaic laws, most forms of gay sex are decidedly illegal.) And Cellucci was a driving force behind a state constitutional amendment to ban prison inmates from voting, which is the subject of yet another Muzzle Award this year.

Fortunately for Cellucci, his political patron, George W. Bush, became president. And fortunately for Massachusetts, Cellucci left the scene, never again to suppress free speech here.

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Issue Date: June 28- July 5, 2001

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