Issue 108, Fall 2008

  • Complaints about quirky nude cartoon figures in a public art installation in San Mateo, CA, led city officials to demand the removal of some of the work. The artist and curator resisted and, with the help of the ACLU and pressure from NCAC action-alert subscribers, convinced the city to leave the work in place. When the temporary exhibition comes down, the city will decide whether to dedicate the display cases to art installations, as originally planned, or reserve them for advertising.
  • Fearing a trial, Karen Fletcher, a Pennsylvania woman, pled guilty to obscenity charges for fictional stories involving torture and sex with children posted on her subscription-only website. She was fined $1000 and sentenced to 6 months house arrest. This is the first obscenity conviction based solely on textual material since the 1970s.
  • After resisting pressure to close “Imaginary Coordinates,” a critically acclaimed exhibit of antique maps and related contemporary Israeli and Palestinian artwork about geography and boundaries, Chicago’s Spertus Museum finally buckled and closed the exhibit — part of a yearlong Chicago Festival of Maps — three months early. Reportedly, members of the Jewish museum’s “key audience” thought the exhibit reflected anti-Israel sentiments.
  • After howls of protest by NCAC and others, California State University reinstated American-Studies professor Wendy Gonaver (See CN #107). She had been fired for refusing to sign a state-mandated “loyalty oath” that she felt violated her beliefs as a Quaker and a pacifist.
  • Only 28 states still accept Title V federal money to teach abstinence-only sex education, and two are about to defect. The reason? The programs, which censor what students are taught about sex and contraception, apparently aren’t effective in preventing pregnancy or STIs. In an effort to perpetuate the program, the Department of Health and Human Services wants to eliminate the annual application process and replace it with a 5-year funding cycle. Congress would still have to reauthorize the funds annually.
  • A CA federal judge struck down an Indiana law requiring any retailer that sells “sexually explicit” material to register as an “adult” business and pay a $250 license fee (See CN #107). Two of the plaintiffs, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and the Association of American Publishers,
    are also challenging new Oregon laws that make it a crime punishable by jail and a fine of up to $125,000 to furnish “sexually explicit” materials to a minor. The laws would include health-education materials and fiction. Booksellers would be liable even if minors only browse.
  • In July, a federal appeals court threw out a $550,000 indecency fine against CBS for the brief exposure of Janet Jackson’s breast at the end of the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. The court agreed the FCC had acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in fining CBS for a “fleeting, isolated, or unintended” image. The US Supreme Court is now considering the constitutionality of the FCC ruling that broadcasting a single “fleeting expletive” violates standards of decency.
    (See CN #105.) NCAC is participating in a friend of the court brief with other First Amendment organizations arguing that the FCC’s enforcement of the “decency” standard is unconstitutional. Stay tuned.