Ms. Lee Ann Dumbauld
City of Lubbock
P.O. Box 2000
Lubbock, TX 79401
Re: Lahib Jaddo
December 21, 2007
Dear Ms. Dumbauld:
I am writing on behalf of the National Coalition Against Censorship, an alliance of over 50 national non-profit organizations united in defense of free expression, regarding the recent banning of two drawings by artists Lahib Jaddo from display at the Buddy Holly Center and the City’s announced intention to draft policies for the exhibition of artwork in the Center. We urge the City to apologize for removing Ms. Jaddo’s work and to draft exhibition policies that are consistent with First Amendment principles.
It is our understanding that Ms. Jaddo submitted the drawings, images of a pregnant nude and a fully clothed mother breast-feeding her child, for exhibition at the Buddy Holly Center in response to an open invitation. According to press accounts of the incident, Assistant City Manager Scott Snider, made the decision to pull the drawings without ever having seen them. In a statement, he said that “[t]he decision was consistent with the museum’s recent practices.” You have suggested in statements to the press that artwork for exhibition would be selected in a case-by-case process based on “good judgment” and whether potential viewers would include children.
What the “practices,” mentioned by Mr. Snider, are remains unclear to all, including Pam Fitch, assistant to the City Council and designated spokesperson on the issue. There do not appear to be any criteria whatsoever for the display of artwork at the museum but for the arbitrary and highly subjective “good judgment” of city officials.
Unfortunately, under the pretext of “good judgment,” supposedly in the name of children, a city official might well decide the censor anything he or she doesn’t like – from a drawing of a nursing child to a work of political satire – while in the meantime chilling an even wider variety of work in all mediums of expression. That is why our courts have repeatedly affirmed that the First Amendment prohibits public officials from censoring art they find offensive or provocative. In the case of Hopper v. City of Pasco (9th Cir. 2001), for instance, the plaintiff artists were invited to display their work at the City Hall, and were then precluded from doing so because the work provoked controversy and public officials considered it “sexually suggestive.” The Court noted that Pasco, by opening its display space to expressive activity, evinced “an intent to create a designated public forum.” In such a forum, the Court concluded, the content-based removal of work would only be justifiable if there is a “compelling state interest and is narrowly drawn to achieve that end.”
We are pleased that the City has apparently realized the precarious grounds on which its decision to censor Ms.Jaddo’s work stands and has decided to narrow down and formally express its exhibition policies. Our concern remains, that, if those policies aim to suppress work like Ms. Jaddo’s, they would violate fundamental Constitutional principles.
Ms. Jaddo’s work is plainly not obscene; indeed, Texas law has allowed breast-feeding in public since 1995. It is therefore beyond comprehension how a pencil sketch of a breast-feeding woman could be considered to violate community standards in Lubbock when the law would allow anybody (including children) to observe the act at a McDonalds, a shopping mall or any other public place.
Likewise, simple nudity is not a sufficient ground for excluding artwork from public exhibition. If it were, a vast amount of great art, including masterpieces like Michelangelo’s David, would be off limits. As the Supreme Court has noted multiple times, “nudity alone does not place otherwise protected material outside the mantle of the First Amendment.” Schad v. Mount Ephraim (1981), Jenkins v. Georgia (1974), Osborne v. Ohio (1990). A “no nudes” policy, in our view, is not a neutral policy, serves no compelling (or even rational) state interest, and therefore constitutes censorship.
We urge you to reconsider your decision in this matter and make it clear to the public – through a carefully drafted policy – that work like the one you recently censored will be allowed in future exhibitions at the Buddy Holly Center and other City venues.
We would be happy to send you model guidelines for art exhibition policies and help you in drafting your own.
National Coalition Against Censorship
275 7th Avenue
New York, NY 10001
CC: Mayor David A. Miller
City of Lubbock
P.O. Box 2000
Lubbock, Texas 79457