Endowment for Arts Wins a Court Round in Obscenity Debate

Article excerpt

THE ongoing controversy over whether Congress has the right to impose conditions over federal arts funding to artists whose work is deemed by some to be obscene roiled up again this week.

On Tuesday, United States District Court Judge A. Wallace Tashima, in Los Angeles, ruled that a law requiring the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to conform to a so-called decency clause when making grants was unconstitutional. The judge said the law violated the First Amendment because it was too vaguely worded. The ruling was in response to a suit brought by four solo performance artists whose work includes nudity, homosexual themes, and sexually explicit behavior, who were denied a total of $23,000 in grants. The four filed suit demanding that their grants be reinstated.

"It's a great decision for artistscross the country," said David Cole, a staff lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and one of the attorneys representing the artists. "It means that they can create art and seek government funding without fear that some government official will deny them funding on grounds of decency or politics."

Rep. Philip Crane (R) of Illinois, who is sponsoring a bill to abolish the NEA, said: "The government has every right, in using taxpayer money, to determine how it's spent."

The ruling is the latest controversy to hit the troubled, 25-year-old NEA. …