NEW YORK, N.Y. – National anti-censorship groups representing librarians, artists, writers, booksellers, religious leaders and educators today denounced on-going efforts by Oklahoma City authorities to suppress a wide range of First Amendment-protected material, including the Academy Award-winning film, The Tin Drum. The National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Campaign for Free Expression, the Freedom to Read Foundation, and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression demanded an end to the recent harassment of librarians, video retailers, magazine distributors and private citizens. At the same time, they released a statement opposing the seizure of The Tin Drum. A copy of their statement is attached to this press release.
"The removal of The Tin Drum from the Oklahoma City library and six video stores is not an isolated incident. It is the latest act in a campaign of censorship," said Judith F. Krug, the director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom and the executive director of the Freedom to Read Foundation. Krug said that the seizure of the videos followed by only a few weeks the arrest of employees at several convenience stores in Oklahoma County on charges of selling allegedly obscene magazines. Those charges have been dropped, but there is a report that at least 90 retailers in Oklahoma City have been told by police that it is illegal to distribute any magazine depicting nudity except Playboy and Penthouse, Krug added. In addition, prosecutors in Oklahoma City are preparing to bring to trial in September a case against two retailers accused of selling allegedly obscene comic books.
Joan E. Bertin, the executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, said that police appear to be acting under pressure from an organization called Oklahomans for Children and Families. "The police seem to be under the impression that Oklahomans for Children and Families represents the community. They are wrong: our Oklahoma supporters are telling us they want to decide for themselves what they can see, read and hear," she said.
David C. Mendoza, the executive director of the National Campaign for Free Expression, called the Oklahoma City situation a classic example of how censorship works: the censors began their campaign by attacking material that they thought few people would defend – adult comic books and magazines – and then widened it into an assault on a widely acclaimed work of art. "This is not just about comic books or The Tin Drum. This is about a private organization enlisting the police force to invade the lives of private citizens in order to impose its morality on all of Oklahoma County. OCAF will not stop with Tin Drum. This is one sure thing NCFE has learned about censors. If the community does not defend its First Amendment rights now, OCAF will become everyone's 'Big Brother,' and their list of forbidden art and literature will only grow," Mendoza said.
The Tin Drum was seized by police on June 25 after a county judge apparently decided in an off-the-record proceeding that the film was obscene under Oklahoma law. Police removed the film from at least one private home as well as six video stores and took possession of a copy of the film that had been borrowed from a library. The Video Software Dealers Association has filed a lawsuit accusing the Oklahoma City police of violating First Amendment rights by seizing copies of the film from video retailers. They are also accusing the police of violating the federal Video Privacy Protection Act by forcing the retailers to divulge who had rented the film. The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma has filed a similar suit on behalf of one of the private citizens whose copy of the film was seized. The man is an employee of ACLU.
"There is nothing prurient about The Tin Drum," Bertin said. "If the child pornography laws can be applied to The Tin Drum, then Lolita is off limits too, along with pictures of some fertility rites in other cultures, pictures of ancient Greek vases, and some paintings by the renowned artist Balthus. The First Amendment requires room for works of serious artistic, historical, or educational merit, even if they involve sexually suggestive imagery involving minors. The child pornography laws are intended to prevent sexual abuse of children, not to stifle artistic expression or rewrite history."
The National Coalition Against Censorship is an alliance of national non-profit organizations, including religious, educational, professional, artistic, labor and civil rights groups. United by a conviction that freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression must be defended, they work to educate their own members about the dangers of censorship and how to oppose it. The Coalition strives to create a climate of opinion hospitable to First Amendment freedoms in the broader community.
The National Campaign for Free Expression is an education and advocacy network of artists, arts organizations and concerned citizens across the country founded to fight censorship and to protect and extend the First Amendment right to freedom of artistic expression. NCFE is the only national organization exclusively dedicated to challenging the erosion of the First Amendment as applied to the support, presentation, and creation of arts in our culture.
The Freedom to Read Foundation was established by the American Library Association to foster libraries as institutions where every citizen's First Amendment freedoms are fulfilled and to support the right of libraries to include in their collections any work which they may legally acquire.
The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression informs and educates booksellers, other members of the book industry and the public about the dangers of censorship. ABFFE promotes and protects the free expression of ideas.
For further information, contact any of the following:
Judith F. Krug, Freedom to Read Foundation, (312) 280-4222
Joan Bertin, National Coalition Against Censorship, (212) 807-6222
David Mendoza, National Campaign for Free Expression, (202) 393-2787
Oren Teicher, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, (914) 591-2665, ext. 267.
Statement of Protest About the Censorship of The Tin Drum
Recently, police in Oklahoma City seized copies of the film, The Tin Drum, after a local judge, without a written decision, declared that it is obscene under state law. As a result, the film was confiscated from the library, video stores, and homes of private citizens who had rented copies of the film.
The Tin Drum is a prize-winning film about a young boy in Europe before and after World War II. According to the Chronicle of the Cinema, the movie, which is "based on Gunter Grass's complex allegorical novel, is a disturbing look at German history through the relentless gaze of a weird child….Oskar acts as a sort of conscience to the inhabitants of Danzig when the Nazis are in power and the war rages." A reviewer for the Christian Science Monitor said the film had "the greatest performance by a child that I have ever seen in a movie." In 1979, The Tin Drum won both the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film and the Cannes Film Festival Palme D'Or as Best Picture.
It is ironic that the film was seized on the same day that the Supreme Court upheld the First Amendment challenge to the Communications Decency Act. In rejecting the argument that "indecent" or "patently offensive" materials could be prohibited on the Internet to protect children, the Court repeated that "the level of discourse reaching a mailbox simply cannot be limited to that which would be suitable for a sandbox."
The efforts to eradicate child pornography and protect children are crucial but must be undertaken with appropriate regard for the important values underlying the First Amendment – the right to see, to speak, to learn, and to think freely. Ordinarily, something is obscene only if "the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value," a determination made with reference to "national" rather than "community" standards.
It is difficult to see how this internationally-acclaimed film could be deemed "obscene." It would be equally absurd to call its sexual suggestiveness child pornography, when – as Gunter Grass explained – the film's ultimate message is about the effort "to escape the process of becoming an adult and the inherent responsibilities" of adulthood.
We believe that the censorious actions taken against The Tin Drum are indefensible. We urge officials in Oklahoma to resist the misinterpretation of the film urged by some, to respect the right of adults to decide for themselves whether to view this work of obvious artistic, historical and political significance, and to restore it to the "marketplace of ideas" in Oklahoma.
The statement condemning censorship of The Tin Drum is endorsed by the following:
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Society of Journalists and Authors
Stanley Aronowitz, Director, Center for Cultural Studies, Graduate Center, City University of New York
Association of American Publishers
Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers
Authors Guild, Inc.
Peter Bondanella, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature, Film Studies, and Italian and Western European Studies, Indiana University
Boston Coalition for Freedom of Expression
Mary A. Burgan, PhD, General Secretary, American Association of University Professors
Right Reverend John H. Burt, Episcopal Bishop of Ohio, Retired
College Art Association
Edward DeGrazia, Professor of Law, Cardozo Law School
Charles Desmarais, Director, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, Ohio
Directors Guild of America
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting
Reverend W.W. Finlator, Pastor Emeritus, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina
Gayle Fitzgerald, CyberHall, Norman, Oklahoma
Freedom to Read Foundation
Human Rights Watch
Institute for First Amendment Studies
International Periodical Distributors Association
Law and Humanities Institute
S Jay Levy
Magazine Publishers of America
Massachusetts Music Industry Coalition
National Association of Artists' Organizations
National Association of College Stores
National Association of Recording Merchandisers
National Campaign for Freedom of Expression
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Writers Union
PEN American Center
People for the American Way
Periodical and Book Association of America
Periodical Wholesalers of North America
Publishers Marketing Association
Recording Industry Association of America
Screen Actors Guild
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
Telluride Film Festival
Theater Communications Group
Zev Trachtenberg, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Oklahoma
Unitarian Universalist Association
Video Software Dealers Association
Richard Weisberg, Professor of Law, Cardozo Law School
Ellen Willis, Director of Cultural Reporting and Criticism, Department of Journalism, New York University
Writers Guild of America, East
Tom Zaniello, Professor of English and Director of the Honors Program, Northern Kentucky University
Good News. A federal district court judge in Oklahoma City issued a preliminary injunction in the Tin Drum cases, in a victory for the plaintiffs. The judge found that the removal and retention of the film from the library, video stores, and a private home failed to meet constitutional standards. A trial about whether the film is protected by the First Amendment is scheduled for the spring. Check out the details at the Oklahoma Department of Libraries site.