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Curiously Armstrong

Rep. Joe Armstrong just learned it probably isn’t wise to pick a fight with somebody who buys breath-mints by the barrel.

Earlier this week the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported that Armstrong recently leaned on the University of Tennessee Bookstore manager to stop selling small novelty tins of “Disappoint Mints” that poke fun at the progress of President Obama’s “Change” agenda. The Knoxville Democrat indicated he believes taxpayer-supported universities ought to be places of solemn learning, not laughter at the expense of Leader-of-the-Free-World types who by coincidence happen to share Armstrong’s party affiliation.

Armstrong declared that “politically specific products” which aren’t “viewpoint neutral” and have “no educational value” shouldn’t be sold in a public university setting — especially a “discretionary product” so “very specifically insulting to the president.”

The marketer of the offending mints, The Unemployed Philosophers Guild, quickly perceived a teachable moment on the folly of what they saw as campus free-speech suppression. The remedy to be applied is more mints, the company determined. In a matter of hours they unveiled a zesty new line, “Joe Armstrong’s Strong Arm Censored Mints.”

In addition to the cool, refreshing satisfaction of lampooning yet another Tennessee lawmaker with a curious faculty for attracting national mockery, the Brooklyn-based company seems to be laughing all the way to the bank — or at least with mint lodged firmly in cheek.

“It’s official – we have SOLD OUT of Disappointmints thanks to Tennessee State Representative Joe Armstrong causing all that ruckus,” according to the company Facebook page. “In his honor, we present these new mints!” is an independent, nonprofit news organization supported by generous donors like you!

Press Releases

ACLU: TN Law Enforcement Tracking Free Speech

Press Release from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee; Dec. 21, 2010:

NASHVILLE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) today learned that the government-run Tennessee Fusion Center is highlighting on its website map of “Terrorism Events and Other Suspicious Activity” a recent ACLU-TN letter to school superintendents. The letter encourages schools to be supportive of all religious beliefs during the holiday season. While the ostensible purpose of fusion centers, to improve sharing of anti-terrorism intelligence among different levels and arms of government, is legitimate and important, using the centers to monitor protected First Amendment activity clearly crosses the line.

“It is deeply disturbing that Tennessee’s fusion center is tracking First Amendment-protected activity,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN Executive Director. “Equating a group’s attempts to protect religious freedom in Tennessee with suspicious activity related to terrorism is outrageous. Religious freedom is a founding principle in our Constitution-not fodder for overzealous law enforcement.”

Fusion centers are institutions created after 9/11 to allow various agencies within a state to share and analyze information about terrorism and other threats to American communities. The ACLU has long warned about the potential dangers of fusion centers, including their ambiguous lines of authority, excessive secrecy, troubling private-sector and military roles and a bent toward collection of information about innocent activities and data mining.

The Washington Post on Monday reported how, nine years after 9/11, U.S. state and local law enforcement are collecting, storing and sharing with federal agencies vast amounts of information about American citizens’ First Amendment-protected activities, often when there is no accusation, evidence or even suspicion of unlawful activity. The article included information about the Tennessee Fusion Center.

“The Fusion Center’s tracking of protected First Amendment activity raises profound civil liberties concerns regarding individual privacy, freedom of speech and religious freedom. We need only look back at our history to be reminded that domestic surveillance is unacceptable. The Tennessee Fusion Center’s classification of the ACLU letter as suspicious raises the specter that the government is once again tracking innocent Americans who are merely exercising the rights integral to a democratic society, returning us to a dangerous chapter in our country’s history,” Weinberg continued.

The Tennessee fusion center’s map can be found here:

The ACLU of Tennessee’s holiday letter to school superintendents can be found here:

To learn more about the ACLU’s work on domestic intelligence gathering, go to:

Press Releases

Rep. McCormick’s Free Speech Bill OK’d In Both Chambers

Press Release from Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga; April 7, 2010:

(April 5, 2010, NASHVILLE) – Representative Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) has passed a law in the Tennessee General Assembly that will protect Tennesseans’ freedom of speech. The law instructs Tennessee courts to declare foreign libel judgments unenforceable if they do not comport with the free speech laws of the United States Constitution or the Tennessee Constitution.

“This new law is designed to protect Tennesseans’ right to free speech and freedom of the press without fear of reprisal from foreign courts in other countries,” said Representative McCormick. “The United States has always upheld the right to freedom of speech, expression, and freedom of the press. This law will assist in upholding that very precious right here in Tennessee,” he added.

Libel plaintiffs have been known to file suit in foreign courts largely due to the fact that other countries do not have the speech protections of the United States’ First Amendment. In particular, American authors and publishers have been targeted in libel suits in other countries.

Known as ‘libel tourism,’ plaintiffs try the cases in foreign courts because many countries do not have the stringent requirements of jurisdiction to which United States courts are subject.

“If Tennesseans do not feel their freedom of speech is protected and could be subject to judgment in another country, it creates a chilling effect on a very precious right,” said Representative McCormick. “This law will go a long way in protecting that right.”