NCAC Censorship News Issue #66:

NCAC Announces a New Executive Director and President of the Board

The Board of Directors of the National Coalition Against Censorship has selected Joan E. Bertin as its new Executive Director. She succeeds Leanne Katz, who died in March. The Board also elected Wendy Kaminer as its President.

Joan E. Bertin, a lawyer, comes to the NCAC from Columbia University, where she has been on the faculty since 1993. In 1995-96, she also held the Joanne Woodward Chair in Public Policy at Sarah Lawrence College. Prior to that, she was on the national staff of the American Civil Liberties Union. As Associate Director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, she dealt with a full range of civil liberties issues relating to speech, religion, due process, and equal protection, including pornography, sexual harassment, and hate speech. She is the author of more than 30 articles.

Wendy Kaminer, a lawyer and Public Policy fellow at Radcliffe College, has published five books and numerous articles on law, popular culture, criminal justice, feminism, and censorship. Widely respected as a commentator and culture critic, she appears regularly on television and radio talk shows and as a speaker at universities and professional organizations. She is Contributing Editor at The Atlantic Monthly, a regular contributor on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, serves on the Board of The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, and has been a member of NCAC’s Working Group on Women, Censorship and “Pornography.”

Bertin and Kaminer look forward to building on “NCAC’s impressive history of achievements.” For the past 23 years, the National Coalition Against Censorship has been on the front lines of the battle for free expression in public schools and libraries across the country. Recently, NCAC played a central role in the reinstatement of a high school teacher in Colorado who had been fired for teaching Bernardo Bertolucci’s anti-fascist film, 1900. In Bellingham, Washington, NCAC lent crucial support to the owners of a magazine store charged with “promoting pornography” for selling a ‘zine called Answer Me. The owners were found not guilty of the criminal charge and were awarded more than $1 million from the county for violation of their First Amendment rights. Bertin stresses that “NCAC has been an important force educating the public about censorship issues, and its noisy opposition to censorship efforts in libraries, schools, and art museums has been vitally important. While NCAC may not be a household name in some quarters, librarians and teachers around the country know it. Some even owe their jobs to it.”

Looking ahead to new challenges, Bertin notes that “a substantial focus in the future will be on censorship on the Internet, as more schools and libraries go on line and censorship debates move into cyberspace.”

There is considerable public pressure to regulate sexually explicit or violent material on the Internet and make it ‘safe’ for children,” Kaminer adds. “But one person’s definition of harmful material may be another’s idea of education. Judy Blume’s books, for example, have been frequent targets of self-proclaimed child savers. Censorship is often advocated in the name of protecting children and then used to deprive them of essential information and challenging ideas.”

Kaminer has identified marketplace censorship as an additional concern. “Controversial or offensive ideas are not only vulnerable to attack by government,” she observes. “Free expression and diversity of opinion are also threatened by media conglomeration and commercial pressures within broadcast and publishing industries.”

Bertin and Kaminer say they feel honored by the opportunity to carry on the work of Leanne Katz, who launched the NCAC and who led it for 23 years with great passion, intelligence, and humor. Katz gained widespread recognition and the gratitude of many beleaguered teachers, librarians and writers, for her fierce opposition to censorship and her steadfast advocacy of First Amendment ideals. She built NCAC into a coalition with 45 participating organizations, including religious, educational, artistic, professional, labor, and civil liberties groups. The Leanne Katz Fund has been established by NCAC to honor her work and insure its continuation.