The War on Decency

Everyone knows a nation can't fight a war without the support of the middle class--because middle class folks, through their taxes, pay the bills. But oddly enough, today the American middle class is funding a war against itself--a war over values. Their adversaries are the cultural elites of America: Hollywood, the media, radicalized professors, artists. People who believe that values are personal not universal, and that government is a useful tool for imposing their values on the rest of us. Consider a recent skirmish in this war. A federal judge in Los Angeles ruled in favor of four performance artists who brought suit against the National Endowment for the Arts. You see, the NEA had decided that government grants would be based on artistic merit and on "general standards of decency." On those grounds, the NEA rejected funding requests from these four artists, since their performances involve, among other things, urinating on stage and graphic explorations into homosexuality. The artists sued--and won. The judge struck down the NEA decency standard as unconstitutional, saying it violates the artists' First Amendment right to free speech. The four artists are thrilled. One of them told reporters, "I'm really a symbol for all the lesbian and feminist and gay artists who have been shut out of the NEA for years." There you have it--the radical artist's view of the Constitution: that the purpose of the First Amendment is to make the NEA safe for lesbian, feminist, and gay artists. Taxpayers may not be able to scrape up enough for a down payment on a home, they may not be able to afford good schools for their children, but no matter--they're now coerced by law to use that money for tax support of ugly, obscene, sexually explicit art. What we're seeing here is a curious inversion of the Constitution. The First Amendment specifically protects the free exercise of religion--and yet the courts have used it to censor religion. Witness the Supreme Court's recent ruling against prayer at graduation ceremonies. On the other hand, the First Amendment makes no mention whatsoever about the arts--much less hate-art. Yet the courts have stretched the right to free speech into a right not only to produce this kind of art but to do so at public expense. I'm afraid we've come to the point where the only solution is to abolish the NEA. True art ennobles a culture, lifts it to a higher vision of life. But some artists feel they have a unlimited right to attack taxpayers, even while taking their money. Until now, the decency ruling placed at least some restraints upon those who receive government funding. By striking it down, the courts are saying artists cannot be called into account in any way. This is absurd. Anyone funded by public money should be accountable to the public. Well, if they want to create obscene art, let them do it--at their own expense. That's no violation of the First Amendment. All it does is give the middle class a right to self-defense in the war over values.


Chuck Colson


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