A Boston mayor who trampled on a religious group’s right to freedom of expression. A Worcester city manager who trampled on the public’s right to know about police misconduct. A New Hampshire state legislator who trampled on teachers’ rights by demanding that they take a “loyalty oath” promising not to teach their students about racism.

These are just a few of the winners of the 2022 New England Muzzle Awards.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Muzzles, a Fourth of July roundup of outrages against freedom of speech and of the press in the six New England states. Conceived of by the noted civil liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate and inspired by the Jefferson Muzzles, they were published by the late, lamented Boston Phoenix for many years and have been hosted by GBH News since 2013.

A look back at the debut Muzzles in 1998 shows that, in some cases, technology has taken power out of the hands of the would-be censors, from when Walmart refused to carry certain CDs to federal officials’ shutdown of so-called pirate station Radio Free Allston. But other 1998 Muzzles seem like they could have happened last week, such as police who roughed up protesters and a school superintendent who killed an editorial in the high school newspaper. (Here is a complete list of Muzzle Awards over the years.)

Reaching the 25-year mark is gratifying. But it’s also a little depressing, because there continues to be no shortage of candidates for our coveted statuettes. Nor is there any reason to believe that censorship and repression will diminish in the years to come.

On that happy note — the envelopes, please.

Marty Walsh

As Boston’s mayor, he flew the flag for censoring a religious group’s freedom of expression.

The Supreme Court of the United States can’t agree on much of anything. From reproductive rights to gun ownership, from capital punishment to the funding of political campaigns, the justices are hopelessly divided. So when they actually vote unanimously on an important First Amendment issue, it’s worth taking note.

It happened on May 2, when the court issued a 9-0 ruling that the city of Boston had violated the rights of a Christian organization in 2017 by refusing a request to fly its flag over City Hall Plaza as part of an event it was holding. As GBH News reporter Saraya Wintersmith wrote, the court’s decision pointed out that the city had approved about 50 such flags at 284 ceremonies before the Christian group, Camp Constitution, was turned down.

The Muzzle for this egregious violation of the First Amendment goes to Marty Walsh, who was mayor at the time and who is now the U.S. secretary of labor. Walsh is a multiple award winner, receiving a Muzzle last year for holding up the release of public records in a notorious police misconduct case and in 2015 for trying to (ahem) muzzle city employees from criticizing his doomed attempt to bring the Olympics to Boston.

Walsh’s latest Muzzle, though, might stand as his most blatant, touching on both freedom of expression and of religion. “The whole episode was shameful — another case in which the free-speech rights of a disfavored Boston minority were trampled by local government,” wrote Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby.

After the decision was announced, a spokesperson for current Mayor Michelle Wu said the city was considering its options. Let’s hope she doesn’t shut down the flag-flying program altogether. There’s no reason to be afraid of private groups displaying messages that some might disagree with — and letting their freak flag fly.

The BDS Mapping Project

An anonymous group created a website to intimidate, harass and silence supporters of Israel.

U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss earlier this month called out a chilling example of intimidation and harassment: the Mapping Project, which identified Jewish and pro-Israel organizations on a map of Massachusetts. The map’s makers have remained anonymous, but the website has been promoted by members of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to name and shame supporters of Israel because of that country’s continued occupation of land claimed by the Palestinians.

The map, Auchincloss tweeted, is “tapping into millennia-old antisemitic tropes. To name names & keep lists, which has a sinister resonance to the targeting of Jews throughout history, is irresponsible. They need to take down the map and apologize.” Auchincloss is a Newton Democrat who is also Jewish.

The Muzzle goes to the BDS Mapping Project, whoever its members may be. Their foul activism is designed to frighten and silence supporters of Israel rather than allow for open discussion and debate.

The existence of the Mapping Project was reported by a website called Jewish Insider, which noted that its organizers explained their hateful project by writing: “Our goal in pursuing this collective mapping was to reveal the local entities and networks that enact devastation, so we can dismantle them.” The map includes colleges and universities, medical institutions, financial groups, police departments and numerous other agencies.

The action comes at a time of skyrocketing incidents of antisemitism, according to the Anti-Defamation League — which, naturally, occupies a prominent place on the map. In 2021, the ADL found that reports of assaults, harassment and vandalism against Jews were up 42% in New England compared to 34% nationally. Moreover, 108 of the 155 incidents in New England occurred in Massachusetts.

As ADL regional director Robert Trestan wrote in The Boston Globe: “Whatever one’s views on Israeli policy and actions — and we recognize that opinions vary widely — this should be an occasion for all to stand up against this kind of intimidation and targeting.”

John Krystal

A Yale administrator fired a faculty member after she tweeted about Alan Dershowitz’s mental health.

For the past 50 years, psychiatrists have been expected to abide by something called the “Goldwater rule,” which forbids them from commenting publicly on the mental health status of people they haven’t examined. The rule is named after 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, whose sanity was questioned by some outspoken psychiatrists and in the media. The rule has long been regarded by critics as an abridgement of free-speech rights.

Which brings us to the case of Bandy X. Lee, a former psychiatry professor at Yale University who ran afoul of the powers-that-be when she began writing that Donald Trump was mentally ill. Her story was told in a lengthy article by Joshua Kendall in New York magazine last December. Among Lee’s controversial activities, we learn, was writing the introduction to a 2017 book called “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.”

But what finally brought her Yale career to an end was a series of tweets in which she speculated that celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz, whose clients have included Trump, may have been exhibiting symptoms of “shared psychosis.” Her evidence: Dershowitz weirdly referred to his “perfect, perfect sex life” in response to accusations against him by one of Jeffrey Epstein’s victims, thus echoing Trump’s reference to his “perfect phone call” with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy.

Dershowitz demanded that Yale investigate and, soon enough, Lee was let go by John Krystal, chair of the psychiatry department. Lee worked in a non-tenured position, so there wasn’t much to protect her, and it’s fair to say that her statements flirted at the edge of what’s ethical and what isn’t.

But firing her was a serious breach of her free-speech rights as well as the tradition of academic freedom. It’s unimaginable that anyone regarded her tweets as being the equivalent of a clinical diagnosis. She was expressing an opinion. By giving in to her critics, Krystal sent a chilling message to his entire faculty.

Elizabeth Warren

Criticizing Amazon is one thing. Criticizing how the retailer promotes controversial books is something else.

Elected officials have First Amendment rights, too. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them expressing their frustration with a giant retailer. But when that retailer is Amazon, and the frustration being expressed is over which books they choose to sell and promote, that criticism takes on a more ominous quality.

Which is why we’re awarding a Muzzle to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Like many of us, the Massachusetts Democrat is appalled by misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19. But by calling out Amazon for its algorithmic promotion of certain books that make false claims about masks and vaccines, Warren is acting like a local hack who threatens to pull the vendor’s license from a bookstore for displaying volumes about critical race theory in a prominent spot near the cash register.

In a press release issued last fall, Warren criticized a “pattern and practice of misbehavior” that “suggests that Amazon is either unwilling or unable to modify its business practices to prevent the spread of falsehoods or the sale of inappropriate products — an unethical, unacceptable, and potentially unlawful course of action from one of the nation’s largest retailers.”

Warren’s outburst resulted in a lawsuit brought by anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others, charging that the senator violated the First Amendment by pushing Amazon to stop selling a book called “The Truth about COVID-19,” to which Kennedy contributed the foreword. Prominent civil rights lawyer Harvey Silverglate told The Boston Globe that Kennedy and his fellow plaintiffs had a strong case, saying, “You’d think that a former Harvard law professor would know better.”

So far, Warren is winning. In May, a federal district judge ruled that Warren can’t be forced to retract a letter she sent to Amazon last September.

But the larger issue remains: It’s unacceptable for an elected official to demand that a bookstore change the way it sells books in order to suit her preferences — no matter how well grounded in science and commonsense those preferences may be.

Shenna Bellows

A former ACLU official squared off against a current ACLU lawyer over Maine’s f***ed-up vanity license plates.

A battle over dirty license plates in Maine pits current and former officials of the state’s ACLU against each other. Our Muzzle goes to the former executive director — Shenna Bellows, now the secretary of state, who supported a new state law banning lewd license plates and is now in charge of drafting regulations to implement the law.

“For the past seven years, in one state in this country, drivers have been able to say almost anything they wanted on their license plates,” wrote Alan Ehrenhalt at the website Governing. “They could purchase plates that said “F*** YOU” if that’s what they felt like doing. They didn’t even need the asterisks. They could spell it right out in big letters.”

No more. Bellows told state legislators that the new law would ban 421 of the 120,000 vanity plates in circulation. Plates could be recalled for obscene language, racist content and references to genitalia, among other things. “You can’t escape the proliferation of the F-word,” Bellows told an interviewer, but added: “If you can’t say it on the 6 o’clock news, it shouldn’t be on a license plate. If you really want an offensive slogan on your car, then you can use a bumper sticker.”

But Carol Garvan, the ACLU’s state legal director, called the new law “content-based censorship,” according to Michael Shepherd of the Bangor Daily News. And Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said the guidelines are “unconstitutionally broad and vague,” thus inviting lawsuits against the state.

As Bellows herself pointed out, bumper stickers are a regulation-free zone of private speech. It’s hard to imagine how the civic culture of Maine would be enhanced by holding license plates to a higher standard than the bumper sticker appearing right below it. This seems like a censorious solution in search of a nonexistent problem.

David Beare

The head of an elite prep school uninvited the celebrated anti-racism journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones from participating in a Black History Month event.

New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones’ long, drawn-out tenure battle with the University of North Carolina drew national headlines. By contrast, the Middlesex School’s decision to uninvite Hannah-Jones after asking her to speak during Black History Month flew almost entirely under the radar.

Hannah-Jones is the creator of the 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning effort that recenters American history around slavery. Her work has come under withering attack in right-wing circles, which led to her decision to take a position at Howard University, a historically Black institution, rather than accept UNC’s long-delayed tenure offer.

But the Middlesex School? In liberal Concord, Massachusetts?

The elite prep school rescinded its speaking invitation, according to head of school David Beare, our Muzzle winner, because of concerns that “individuals from outside our community might inadvertently distract from the insights and perspective that she intended to share.” After Beare’s actions prompted protests, he took a leave of absence that turned into a permanent departure.

“As so many things, I have just become a symbol of a much larger issue,” Hannah-Jones said in a Boston Globe story by reporters Amanda Kaufman and John R. Ellement. “I think we’re in a very fraught moment, and that takes a toll, for sure, because I really think all of these efforts to suppress history that is uncomfortable, speech that is uncomfortable, and this sense among too many mainstream reporters that the biggest threat to free speech is progressives who want talk about anti-racism, and not governments that are legislating against the teaching of histories, is deeply distressing.”

For the Middlesex School, it became a teachable moment — but not in the way that school officials had intended. We may never know what pressures Beare might have come under to act as he did. Still, it’s hard to believe he couldn’t foresee that his attempt to silence Hannah-Jones would end in disaster.

Edward Augustus

Worcester’s ex-city manager led a years-long effort to suppress records looking into possible police misconduct.

Violations of the state public records law are as common in Massachusetts as bad drivers, Dunks iced coffee and guys who wear shorts in the winter. This is especially true when those records pertain to police misconduct. Among this year’s Muzzle finalists were the Boston Police Department, which is being sued by Attorney General Maura Healey for failing to turn over documents about fired police commissioner Dennis White, and the State Police, which has refused to produce records that might show whether Col. Christopher Mason ordered special treatment for his son, Reid Mason, in a potential criminal investigation.

Outrageous as these examples are, though, they pale in comparison to the city of Worcester’s years-long refusal to comply with a request from the city’s daily newspaper, the Telegram & Gazette, to produce records associated with 12 internal affairs investigations and complaint histories regarding 17 police officers. Our Muzzle goes to Edward Augustus, the former city manager, who presided over this travesty.

According to a detailed report by Andrew Quemere that was published by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and DigBoston, Superior Court Judge Janet Kenton-Walker was so appalled by officials’ behavior that she ordered the city to pay the T&G $101,000 to cover part of its legal fees and another $5,000 in punitive damages.

Those unusually harsh terms were driven by the judge’s belief that the city had acted in bad faith. According to an account by the T&G’s Brad Petrishen, Kenton-Walker ruled that the city had “cherry picked” language and used it in a manner that was “out of context.” She sternly added: “Counsel may not misrepresent to the court what cases and other materials stand for.”

Augustus, who stepped down recently, refused requests for comment from both the T&G and Quemere. But City Solicitor Michael Traynor issued a statement saying that the city would accept Kenton-Walker’s judgment rather than file an appeal.

“Our job is to hold those in power accountable,” T&G executive editor Dave Nordman told his paper. “We don’t go into things looking to file lawsuits, but when we feel like people have not followed the law, we challenge them.” (Note: Nordman is now a colleague of mine, having recently taken a position in Northeastern University’s communications office.)

Patricia Coyne-Fague

A lawsuit claims Rhode Island’s top prison official retaliated against a former inmate for speaking out.

Several years ago, Joseph Shepard, then an inmate at Rhode Island’s Adult Correctional Institutions, provided prison officials with materials documenting his complaints about conditions behind bars, including what he perceived as rule-breaking by Department of Corrections staff and shortcomings in the internal grievance system.

DOC Director Patricia Coyne-Fague allegedly encouraged him to direct his complaints to the very grievance system he had criticized. Not long after, Shepard was charged with taking part in a “mutinous act” for possessing documents from an inmate-led group he’d also been in touch with. What followed, according to the Rhode Island ACLU, was eight months of hell, as Shepard was thrown into solitary confinement, apparently in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights. Shepard, who was later released on parole — before being locked up again on gun charges — has filed suit in federal court with the help of the ACLU and the Rhode Island Center for Justice, with Coyne-Fague as the lead defendant.

“I spoke out against conditions at the ACI and I was punished with almost eight months in solitary confinement,” Shepard said in a statement. “Now that I’m out of prison, I’m speaking out again to make it clear that incarcerated people have a right to share information about misconduct in our state prisons.”

It is a sad fact of life that prison officials have the legal right to restrict inmates’ reading materials, and it’s possible that Shepard really was punished for violating those rules. But the evidence amassed by the ACLU suggests otherwise. Indeed, he claims that corrections staff told him his complaints had “aroused the ire” of prison officials, as the ACLU put it.

According to Katie Mulvaney of The Providence Journal, DOC spokesman J.R. Ventura denied that solitary confinement even exists in Rhode Island prisons. OK, fine. Call it “segregation” instead. In any case, the picture Shepard and his lawyers paint, if true, is terrifying — harsh punishment, followed by even harsher punishment if you dare speak up about it.

City officials in Newton, Mass.

A Biden supporter’s lawn signs ran afoul of an ordinance that officials concede is unconstitutional.

The Muzzles wouldn’t be the Muzzles without a controversy over political lawn signs. Last year we awarded a Muzzle to town officials in Plymouth, Massachusetts, who threatened a Trump supporter named Joe Casieri with a $300-a-day fine if he didn’t take down a sign that said “Biden Is Not My President.” After the town drew unwanted attention for trying to silence Casieri, the matter was dropped.

This year the award goes to city officials in Newton, Massachusetts, who demanded that Democratic activist Martina Jackson remove political signs from her lawn supporting President Joe Biden, Black Lives Matter and other liberal politicians and causes. As with Casieri, she was told she would be fined $300 a day if she failed to comply.

According to an account by John Hilliard in The Boston Globe, the city quickly backed down and started drafting a less draconian sign ordinance. But officials appear to have chosen the wrong person with whom to tangle: Jackson filed suit in Middlesex Superior Court seeking to clear her name and that of her husband, who was also targeted in the unconstitutional sign-removal order.

“I feel very strongly about freedom of speech and freedom of expression rights on my private property,” she told the Globe.

We’re singling out Newton, but what happened to Jackson could have taken place in any number of communities. As Hilliard reported, nearly 50 cities and towns in the Boston area still have regulations that determine what types of signs are allowed on private property. It’s probably safe to say that most of those regulations violate the First Amendment.

Alicia Lekas

The New Hampshire proponent of a teachers’ “loyalty oath” conceded her bill is sloppy. It’s actually a lot worse than that.

New Hampshire is awash in white fear. Last year we bestowed a Muzzle Award upon former President Trump for whipping up the racist frenzy that was behind legislation in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and other states to ban the teaching of “divisive concepts” — code for teaching students uncomfortable truths about racism.

Then, last fall, Gov. Chris Sununu, a New Hampshire Republican who signed a version of that ban into law, nevertheless denounced Moms for Liberty, a right-wing group that was offering to pay $500 to anyone who ratted out teachers who strayed and taught what its members wrongly regard as critical race theory. Indeed, they called the proposed payments a “CRT Bounty.” Sununu’s crocodile tears, no doubt, were intended to obscure the reality that the bill he signed specifically set up the reporting system that Moms for Liberty planned to exploit.

No one, though, went as far as Alicia Lekas, a Republican state legislator from Hudson who filed a bill earlier this year that would have required teachers to agree to a “loyalty oath” pledging that they not instruct their students “that the United States was founded on racism.”

The backlash was immediate. Lekas tried to double-talk her way out of it, saying she had thrown the proposal together quickly and that it went further than she intended. “I ran out of time to get this ready,” Lekas reportedly said at a legislative hearing. “I was down helping my brother, who had heart failure. I was staying with my mom, who did not have internet access, and I was trying to do this on my phone. It was very difficult.”

But as Josh Rogers of New Hampshire Public Radio put it: “For the many teachers in attendance or watching remotely, Lekas’s explanation likely struck a ‘dog ate my homework’ note.”

Fortunately, Lekas’ loyalty-oath proposal died in legislative purgatory, from which we hope it never emerges.

GBH News contributor Dan Kennedy has been compiling the New England Muzzle Awards since their debut 25 years ago. His blog, Media Nation, is online at dankennedy.net.