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Dung and the ACLU By: Chris Weinkopf
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, October 08, 1999


"UNDER OUR CONSTITUTION," explains ACLU Legal Director Raymond Vasvari, "the government has no business erecting, accepting, or maintaining religious monuments on public property." That is, unless said monuments are decorated with elephant dung and plastered with porn-magazine cut-outs of women’s genitalia. Taxpayers who object to footing the bill for such depictions, says Norman Siegel, chairman of the ACLU’s New York chapter, are "trashing … the U.S. Constitution."

So it is with the American Civil Liberties Union, the most tortured, confused, and self-conflicted organization outside of, say, African-Americans for David Duke. In February, it sued Adams County, Ohio, for posting the Ten Commandments in four high schools. Now it demands that the city of New York house and subsidize a different sort of religious depiction—Chris Ofili’s The Blessed Virgin Mary, a painting of the Madonna with animal feces and porn adorning the canvas.

The display is part of the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s "Sensation" show, which also includes the bust of an artist's head filled with eight pints of his own blood, Siamese-twin mannequins with sex organs on their faces, and a decomposing cow head—complete with flies and maggots. The Brooklyn Museum, like the four schools in Adams County, Ohio, receives government funds and sits on public property. What separates these two publicly funded religious displays is that one venerates holy images, the other desecrates them. For the ACLU, that makes all the difference.

It has blasted New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to withdraw public funding for the museum as "censorship" and a violation of the First Amendment. But the Mayor has not questioned the right of a private institution to show lewd, profane, or even sacrilegious "art"—he only objects to the idea that taxpayers should pay for it. The ACLU often employs this very line of reasoning. On its website, it rails against education vouchers because they "would force federal taxpayers to support religious beliefs and practices with which they may strongly disagree." As if most Catholics would not "strongly disagree" with hurling excrement at the Mother of God.

But don’t expect consistency from the ACLU. In an open letter to Giuliani, it complains that "your attempt … to force the Brooklyn Museum of Art to cancel an art exhibit is an unconstitutional attempt to censor ideas you personally oppose." Yet the left-wing legal outfit claims to be mounting its suit against Adams County, Ohio, on behalf of Barry Baker, who, to quote the ACLU’s own press release, "finds the presence of the religious monuments on public property offensive to his sensibilities." At the ACLU, some sensibilities seem to count more than others. If an atheist is disturbed by a religious image, he has a federal case; if a believer blanches when the government uses his tax money to demean his faith, he is a would-be censor.

Or worse, a Nazi. An ACLU press release denouncing Giuliani’s opposition to the "Sensation" exhibit favorably quotes a September 28 Newsday op-ed that compares the Mayor with the Fuehrer. "The mayor calls the exhibit ‘sick stuff,’ " the piece ominously reports, "This is particularly unfortunate language, because of its similarity to the way art and artists were vilified in Nazi Germany. Hitler characterized the works of artists such as Gaugin, Chagall, Picasso, Van Gogh, Klee, and Grosz as ‘products of morbid and perverted minds.’ " Merely registering a dissenting view puts Giuliani, in the ACLU’s eyes, in cahoots with the Third Reich. So much for the open-mindedness of civil-libertarians.

The irony is that if Mr. Ofili had produced the very same rendition of The Blessed Virgin Mary, sans smut and animal waste, the ACLU probably would have lead the charge to shut down the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The organization would no doubt consider a prominently featured, favorable depiction of the Blessed Mother an "endorsement" of Christianity, and thus a violation of the vaunted separation of church and state. How grateful its lawyers must be that the First Amendment contains the right to free speech and freedom of religion—and is therefor doubly susceptible to legalistic perversion. By their interpretation, it precludes faithful townspeople from erecting a Nativity scene on the public square, but guarantees them government funding should they defile it.

That is, to use Mayor Giuliani’s phrase (and thus risking a comparison to Hitler), "sick stuff." Words evidently have little objective meaning at the ACLU—a "censor" is anyone who spends public funds tastefully; a "Nazi" is one who deviates from the Party line; and a "civil libertarian" is someone who cares little about civil liberties. If nothing else, the ACLU is a marvelous testament to the First Amendment—which protects even those who abuse and distort it.


Chris Weinkopf is an editorial writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News. To read his weekly Daily News column, click here. E-mail him at chris.weinkopf@dailynews.com.


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