Editorial misses the point

The Hatchet’s editorial “Dung Happens” (Oct. 4, p. 4) completely missed the boat on what the First Amendment stands for.

The government “shall make no law.abridging the freedom of speech (or expression)” the First Amendment tells us. In his recent battle with the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Mayor Giuliani is not trying to censor and outright prohibit the Brooklyn Museum from showing lewd and crude works – he’s just trying to stop the museum from using government money to pay for such art. The Hatchet seems to think that refusing to subsidize is equivalent to censorship. It simply isn’t.

The fact is, if the museum wanted to fund lewd art, and use its own money to do it, then few people would have a problem with that, because the First Amendment clearly allows such expression. However, nowhere in the Constitution does it state “the government shall be required to subsidize all forms of speech and expression.” While the museum can express itself however it likes with private funds, the government has a right to decide what it wants and what it doesn’t want to spend its money on.

Government is elected by the people, to act on behalf of the interests of the people. Accordingly, the government can decide not to fund things, including art, that it believes do not promote the public interest. This is what Giuliani was doing when he threatened to pull taxpayer subsidies for lewd art. He was attempting to consider decency standards when subsidizing art.

Considering such standards is constitutional. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1998 case of the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) vs. Fimley that the government may “take into account general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public” when awarding art grants.

To suggest that government can have no say in what it pays for is to ignore the history of how art was (and still is) publicly subsidized. The government always has been selective to some degree in terms of what art it will fund. When artists apply for NEA grants, some artists will be turned down for grants on the basis that the NEA feels other art is more deserving of the limited funds. The Supreme Court has said that decency and respect for the diverse values and beliefs of the American public are among the criteria that may be used in determining what art deserves funding.

For The Hatchet to suggest that the Constitution requires government funding of lewd art is to suggest that the government, for instance, is obligated to not refuse taxpayer subsidies for neo-Nazi art that promotes hatred and racism against minorities. It is also to suggest that the taxpayers of Littleton, Colo., should be unable to revoke subsidies for sadistic works of art that glorify the killers of that tragedy. To mandate such absurd subsidies is to concoct a convoluted distortion of what the First Amendment means.

Let free speech and expression reign. Let people say what they want, however they want, on their own time and money. Let the government do its job of serving the people by spending its money on art that does not show hatred, ridicule, and contempt toward appreciable segments of the population.

-The writer is deputy press secretary of the GW College Republicans.

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