This month I wrote a column for the Washington Post on the crackdown of free speech in France and we have previously discussed the decline of free speech values in the West. (here and here and here). This has included attacks in the United States (here and here and here and here). Now, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has prepared his city for its bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics by effectively suspending free speech for city employees and banning them from uttering any negative comments about the Games or the process. I suppose Walsh can cite John Adams’ infamous use of the Alien and Sedition Acts as precedent.
The agreement with the United States Olympic Committee prohibits city workers from making written or verbal statements that “reflect unfavorably upon, denigrate or disparage, or are detrimental to the reputation” of the International Olympic Committee, the United States Olympic Committee or the Olympic Games. That should make many Olympic members like Iran, China, and North Korea feel right at home. Chairman Walsh’s little speech code tells employees that they “shall each promote” the city’s bid “in a positive manner.”
The language chosen bears striking resemblance to the language of the Sedition Act banning anyone from “willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of the Government of the United States.” Substitute the Olympics and you have basically the same standard.
Weirdly, Walsh’s office says that by prohibiting speech “Mayor Walsh is not looking to limit the free speech of his employees and, as residents of Boston, he fully supports them participating in the community process.” So long as they do not say anything negative. That could not be more clear, right?
It is also good to see the USOC representing our values so well formally curtailing speech as a condition for a bid like a guarantee of roads and infrastructure. Indeed the Olympic Committee could accurately be described as displaying “ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice.” However, those words got Vermont Rep. Matthew Lyon jailed in 1800 under the Sedition Act.
I honestly do not know why Boston would want the games. The Olympic stadium itself would be built on parcel of open land but then broken down after the games. These games have tended to bankrupt or financially strain cities. I love Boston and I would hate to see it lose its charm under the onslaught of the games.
Employees are commonly under speech codes generally to guarantee that their statements do not interfere with city business. However, the inclusion of a speech code for games in Boston would have Thomas Paine spinning in his grave. It is also unnecessary since current rules give supervisors ample leeway in encouraging employees not to undermine city policies or bids.
Source: NY Times