(Tuesday, July 7) Do you think a "government of the people, by the people, for the people" should have to subsidize art opposed by most of the people? We don't. Nor does the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently upheld a federal decency-in-the-arts law.
The high court upheld a 1990 law that requires the National Endowment for the Arts to consider public values when awarding grants for arts projects. More specifically, the law requires the NEA, while assessing grant applications on artistic merit, also to consider "general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public."
"So long as legislation does not infringe on other constitutionally protected rights, Congress has wide latitude to set spending priorities," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in the 8-1 majority opinion.
Justice O'Connor is exactly right. This isn't a freedom-of-expression issue; this is a spending issue. This isn't a debate over what is art; this is a debate over who pays.
The decency law doesn't say artists can't express themselves any way they want, whether it's taking photos of a crucifix submerged in urine or disrobing and rolling in chocolate on stage. The law doesn't say private museums, libraries and galleries can't display whatever artwork they choose. Freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Constitution's First Amendment.
But the Constitution does not, as far as we know, guarantee the right to government funding for all forms of self-expression.
We repeat: Money, not the arts, is the key issue here. This court ruling in no way infringes on the right of artists, performers, museums and galleries Ñ any American Ñ to create or perform or exhibit whatever they deem artistic. It just says they may have to do it with their own money.