Issue 64, Winter 1996/1997
NCAC Executive Director Leanne Katz, addressing the Hofstra University Symposium on Law and the Arts in October, expressed concern that some legal academics may be contributing to the worsening climate for the arts in this country. Katz said that academics with a narrow view of First Amendment protections—and a peculiar assumption that sexual expression cannot be political—sometimes assert that political expression is, and should be, privileged, thus implying that artistic expression falls into a different, inferior, category. But as the Second Circuit Court of Appeals said a few weeks ago in the art-on-NYC-streets case in language which certainly applies to all the arts: “Visual art is as wide-ranging in its depiction of ideas, concepts and emotions as any book, treatise, pamphlet or other writing, and is similarly entitled to First Amendment protection.”
To illustrate the worsening national climate for artistic expression, Katz related an incident from the Philadelphia court hearings on the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act. An expert witness for the government answered “yes” when asked by one of the judges whether an image of a nude statue of Aphrodite from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology could be blocked under the law from the Internet. (It is seen in the museum by 40,000 children each year.)
Katz called on the scholars to help prevent arts censorship by:
– Not adopting the censors’ vocabulary, which is confusing, alarming, and often designed to muddy, not clarify, the law. Katz ascribed much of the devastating effect against literature and the other arts today to the constant mis-use of such terms as “pornography,” “obscenity,” and “harmful to minors.” Instead, she urged the use of the term “sexually related expression” elaborated where necessary with careful specifics;
– Dispelling the myths that censorship is good for women, that women want censorship and that those who support censorship speak for women. Restrictions on sexually related expression have always been used against women’s interests; they can never enhance women’s freedom, equality or safety;”
– Discrediting the “spin” that it is desirable for different First Amendment standards to apply in different communities. Students in the many places where there are ludicrous efforts to characterize educators as enemies of families are entitled to — and need access to — the same array of books and ideas as young people elsewhere.
– Censorship News readers may recall that even the Meese Commission on Pornography conceded that most First Amendment scholars agreed that attempts to put “obscenity” outside the protection of the First Amendment are unconstitutional.