AU Criticizes Smithsonian For Caving In To Religious Right Pressure On Art Exhibit

Removal Of Video At National Portrait Gallery Is Religiously Based Censorship, Church-State Watchdog Group Says

A video that was part of an art exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., should not have been pulled at the behest of government officials and aggressive religious groups, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Americans United criticized U.S. Reps. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Eric Cantor (R-Va.) – who will likely be speaker of the House and majority leader next year – for demanding that the Smithsonian Institution remove the video.

“Boehner and Cantor aren’t even in control of the House yet, and already they’re kowtowing to the Religious Right,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “This is religiously based censorship, pure and simple – and it’s reprehensible.”

Among the organizations leading the campaign against the video is the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, a New York City-based group that promotes an ultra-conservative version of Catholicism rejected by most American Catholics.

The video in question is by late artist David Wojnarowicz. It is about four minutes long, and an 11-second segment shows ants crawling on a crucifix. It is believed that Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS in 1992, was making a statement about the suffering of those who have the disease.

Lynn noted that censorship based on religion was once common in America but that public sentiment and court rulings led to its demise.

“If some people believe a show like this offends their religious sensibilities, the answer is for them not to go to it,” Lynn said. “They should not have the right to control what art the rest of us can see.

“Apparently, some people think tax-funded museums should display religious-themed art only if it’s nice, sanitized and doesn’t offend anyone,” Lynn added. “If that’s the standard, there will soon be precious little worth looking at in the galleries.”

Concluded Lynn, “Authoritarian religious groups who want to control what people see and read have persuaded governments to suppress a lot of great art, films and literature over the years. It’s a shame to see our country headed back to those bad old days.”

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.