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Issue 107, Summer 2008

  • Arkansas Tech University postponed a student production of John Weidman and Steven Sondheim’s “Assassins” – a historical play about presidential assassins – because administrators thought the sight and sound of gun violence in the play could be disturbing in light of recent campus shootings. Under pressure from the playwright and NCAC, the university reversed its position and let the play go on.
  • A federal appeals court in New York recently ruled that online (but off-campus) student speech could be penalized if it might “portend disruption” of school activities. In this case, a student’s blog complained about the threatened cancellation of a music festival, called the school administrators “douchebags,” and urged others to complain and “piss off” the administration. The Court found the language “potentially disruptive” and said it “diverted” staff from their “core educational responsibilities.” Message to students: sit down and shut up.
  • The 2008 edition of the Long Island Coalition Against Censorship’s “Censorship in Schools and Libraries” exhibit is available for display in libraries and classrooms for Banned Books Week in September. Contact coalcen1@verizon.net or visit the-licac.org for details.
  • Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels signed into law a bill that will require mainstream bookstores to register with the governor and pay a $250 fee if they sell “sexually explicit materials” – a term that could include Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Fear of Flying, and The Joy of Sex, among many other titles. Expect a challenge in court.
  • A California college instructor in American Studies was denied a job because she refused to sign a “loyalty oath,” which is required of all US citizens employed by the state – but not by employees who are not citizens! Wendy Gonaver, a Quaker, claimed that the oath violated her religious beliefs. NCAC Board member Marjorie Heins has published a history and critical study of these oaths, which she calls “coerced rituals of political orthodoxy, and … threats to free thought.” Read it at www.fepproject.org.
  • Fresh from the book censorship wars: Of Mice and Men, Native Son, and Brave New World have been pulled from high school literature classes in Appling County Georgia, at the request of a local religious leader and in spite of educators’ recommendation that the books be retained as they are often included in SAT and Advanced Placement exams.
  • In late April, New York Times reporter David Barstow exposed an extensive propaganda program in which retired military officers, many of whom also serve as consultants to military contractors, were briefed by the Pentagon and dispatched to appear on network and cable news programs as “independent analysts.” Donald Rumsfeld, meanwhile, referred to them as his “message force multipliers.” Over 40 members of Congress have issued a call for an investigation.
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY closed “Virtual Jihadi,” a video art exhibit by Iraqi-American artist Wafaa Bilal, and announced the creation of a committee to “vet and monitor” artwork on campus after the College Republicans vocally opposed the exhibition. The work was then displayed by The Sanctuary for Independent Media, a private exhibition space. But the controversy did not end there: The City Commissioner for Public Works led a protest demonstration at the opening, and in a strange and suspicious coincidence, the next day The Sanctuary was closed for a building code violation. Wafaa Bilal is no stranger to censorship, having had his work suppressed in Saddam’s Iraq long before it was suppressed in Troy, NY.