NCAC Censorship News Issue #66:

Summer 1997

Good News From Peru: The Peru, Illinois School Board lifted the ban on John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, permitting 8th-grade teacher Dan Brooks to continue its use through this school year while the school board initiates formal curriculum selection policies. Brooks had been ordered to stop teaching the book he had taught for 13 years after anonymous complaints were received by the principal. NCAC strongly protested the district’s action to suppress the teacher’s and the students’ First Amendment rights and urged the district to adopt appropriate policies (Censorship News 65).

Bad News From Levittown: In Levittown, New York (a neighbor of Island Trees where the landmark Supreme Court Case, Pico v. Island Trees originated) Robert Lipsyte’s novel, One Fat Summer, was removed from the required reading list in a developmental reading class after one complaint about a sexual passage. The superintendent denied that his action constitutes censorship as he overruled the unanimous recommendation of his faculty review committee to retain it. He called the book “inappropriate” although it had been successfully taught for almost 10 years. In urging the school board to restore the book, NCAC pointed out that “…faculty members must be very puzzled as to what constitutes appropriate reading material when a unilateral decision is imposed that conflicts with their professional judgments about how to motivate reading and understanding in their students — which is, after all, the basic mission of education.”

Hitting The Low Notes: On the music front, the craze to censor reached a crescendo as concerts by the rock group Marilyn Manson were barred, then unbarred, from public performances and Michigan legislators introduced bills to require parents to accompany their minor children to such concerts (although the bills don’t mandate earplugs)! Not to be outdone, Texas legislators would ban state entities from investing in companies directly or indirectly associated with “offensive” lyrics.

Pinups OK In The PX: “Citizens don’t jettison their constitutional rights simply by enlisting in the armed forces,” ruled a federal district court judge as he jettisoned the Military Honor and Decency Act of 1996 which barred military bases from selling or renting materials that “lasciviously” depict nudity. NCAC had categorized the Act as “deeply indecent” because it dishonored our precious First Amendment freedoms (CN 64).

Artists OK On The Sidewalk: In a First Amendment challenge to the New York City ordinance requiring licenses for street sales of art, the Supreme Court let stand a circuit court ruling that “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. The city’s requirement that appellants be licensed in order to sell their art work in public spaces constitutes an unconstitutional infringement on their First Amendment rights.”

Ruling Expected Momentarily on Free Speech Online

As we go to press, free speech advocates are waiting for the Supreme Court decision on one of the most important First Amendment cases in recent years, the challenge to the Communications Decency Act (as well as President Clinton’s stance on the issue). The law to impose broad content regulations on the Internet would make it a crime to display or make available any “indecent or patently offensive” material online. The Supreme Court ruling on Reno v. ACLU is expected by early July. Watch our Web page for the news.