‘Too controversial’: Polk State College rejects professor’s anti-Trump artwork

Detail from “Death of Innocence” by Serhat Tanyolacar

“Tanyolacar submitted a piece titled “Death of Innocence,” which depicts several poets and writers juxtaposed with a number of pictures of President Donald Trump and other political figures engaging in sexual activity.”

By  February 20, 2018

LAKELAND, Fla., Feb. 20, 2018 — Free expression on campus isn’t childproofed — except at Polk State College, where part-time faculty member Serhat Tanyolacar’s artwork was rejected from a faculty art exhibition for being “too controversial.”

In early January, Polk State encouraged all faculty members in its arts program, including Tanyolacar, to submit artwork to a faculty exhibition scheduled to begin on Feb. 12. Tanyolacar submitted a piece titled “Death of Innocence,” which depicts several poets and writers juxtaposed with a number of pictures of President Donald Trump and other political figures engaging in sexual activity. Tanyolacar said the art is intended to highlight “moral corruption and moral dichotomy” and provoke debate.

In response to his submission, Polk State Program Coordinator Nancy Lozell informed Tanyolacar on Feb. 6 that his artwork would not be displayed. “After review by the gallery committee and the gallery administrator it was agreed upon that your piece Death of Innocence should not be displayed,” Lozell wrote, because the college “offers classes and volunteer opportunities to our collegiate charter high schools and other high schools in Polk county and we feel that that particular piece would be too controversial to display at this time.”

Serhat Tanyolacar
Death of Innocence (2017)
Suite of four relief engraving prints (unique edition)
96×48 inches

———————

This is a color version of the work (not the version to appear in the exhibit) which shows in better detail the controversial content. This is courtesy Serhat Tanyolacar’s official artist’s Facebook page.

FIRE and the National Coalition Against Censorship wrote to Polk State President Angela Garcia Falconetti on Feb. 14, asking the college to reassess Tanyolacar’s submitted artwork in a viewpoint-neutral manner.

“Members of the Polk State campus are not children, and they should not be treated as such,” said FIRE Senior Program Officer Sarah McLaughlin. “By sanitizing its campus to shield high school students from ‘controversial’ material in a faculty art exhibition, Polk State harms members of the college community by needlessly childproofing their campus, and high school students by underestimating their ability to cope with contentious or provocative artwork.”

In a Feb. 16 meeting, Tanyolacar discussed “Death of Innocence” with Falconetti, Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs Donald Painter, Jr., and Professor of Art Holly Scoggins. The administrators offered shifting justifications for the rejection of the piece, but again made clear that its “controversial” nature played a part in the decision. They reaffirmed that the faculty art exhibition — which opened on Feb. 12 — would not display “Death of Innocence.”

“For ‘Death of Innocence,’ my gallery display strategy is to engage dialogues with both the audience who appreciate the controversial imagery and the audience who may be offended by it,” Tanyolacar said. “No artwork should be barred from being exposed to the general audience in any academic institution. As educators and artists we must accept that our students cannot be protected or disconnected from the ideological controversies by the institutionalized moral authority. In fact, controversial artworks are essential to the intellectual growth of our students, and displaying them should be encouraged by both the administration and the faculty.”

This is not Tanyolacar’s first campus art controversy. As a visiting assistant professor at the University of Iowa in 2014, Tanyolacar attempted to spark a debate about racial issues in the United States by placing a piece of public art consisting of newspaper clippings about racial violence printed on a Ku Klux Klan-style robe and hood in an open, outdoor area of campus and engaging with viewers about it. In response to student complaints, UI officials required Tanyolacar to remove the artwork, prompting FIRE and NCAC to call on the university to restate its commitment to freedom of expression.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.

The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), founded in 1974, is an alliance of 56 national nonprofit organizations, including literary, artistic, religious, educational, professional, labor, and civil liberties groups dedicated to promoting the right to free speech. More information on its nationwide work combating censorship can be found at ncac.org.

Christopher Hitchens on Free Speech: To whom are you going to award the job of being the censor?

Excerpted from University of Toronto debate “Freedom of Speech includes the Freedom to Hate” held November 2006.

“To whom do you award the right to decide which speech is harmful or who is the harmful speaker? Or determine in advance what are the harmful consequences going to be, that we know enough about in advance to prevent? To whom would you give this job? To whom are you going to award the job of being the censor?”

FIRE names America’s 10 worst colleges for free speech: 2018

PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 12, 2018 — Each year, colleges across the country find dubious ways to silence student and faculty expression. In the last year, administrators became embroiled in litigation for telling a student he couldn’t hand out Spanish-language copies of the U.S. Constitution outside a free speech zone, continued a years-long effort to ban a group from campus due to its political viewpoint, and even investigated a professor for a satirical tweet — eventually driving him to resign.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has identified America’s 10 worst colleges for free speech, published today with detailed descriptions on FIRE’s website.
This year’s list includes the following institutions, in no particular order:
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, N.Y.)
  • Drexel University (Philadelphia, Pa.)
  • Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.)
  • Los Angeles Community College District (Los Angeles, Calif.)
  • Fordham University (New York, N.Y.)
  • Evergreen State College (Olympia, Wash.)
  • Albion College (Albion, Mich.)
  • Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.)
  • University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, Calif.)
  • Texas State University (San Marcos, Texas)
The institutions on FIRE’s annual list of worst colleges include one university that threatened the funding and editorial process of its independent student newspaper, another that erected fences around campus to keep peaceful student demonstrators out of sight of donors, and yet another that put a student through a months-long investigation and a four-hour hearing for a joke. (That student is still waiting to learn his fate!)
“College administrators, and sometimes even students, are going to greater and greater lengths to justify muzzling expression on campus,” said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley. “This type of censorship makes for a sterile environment where lively debate and discussion can’t thrive. The public deserves to know which colleges will defend free expression — and which ones will go to seemingly any length to silence it.”
For the first time, FIRE also awarded a Lifetime Censorship Award to one university that threatens the free speech rights of its students and faculty so often that it deserves individual infamy: DePaul University.
DePaul earned the 2018 Lifetime Censorship Award in recognition of its decade-long rap sheet of suppressing speech at every turn. From denying recognition to a student organization criticizing marijuana laws, to forcing the DePaul Socialists, Young Americans for Freedom, and College Republicans to pay for security in order to host speakers at their meetings and events, to forbidding a group from using the slogan “Gay Lives Matter,” DePaul has staked out a leadership position in stifling campus expression.
FIRE’s 2018 list includes both public and private institutions. Public colleges and universities are bound by the First Amendment. Private colleges on this list are not required by the Constitution to respect student and faculty speech rights, but explicitly promise to do so.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.

Films, newspapers, magazines and intranets and other media spread decadent ideologies, cultural poisoning

Photo courtesy KCNA.

North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun Calls for Foiling Ideological and Cultural Poisoning by Imperialism

Date: 20/01/2018 | Source: KCNA.kp (En) | Read original version at source

Pyongyang, January 20 (KCNA) — For all the nations aspiring to independence and opposing imperialism to combat the poisoning of decadent ideologies and culture of every description precisely means a fierce struggle to defend their sovereignty and dignity, says Rodong Sinmun in an article Saturday.

The article goes on:

The imperialists regard the reactionary ideological and cultural poisoning as the most effective way for attaining their aggression and predatory aims with ease.

The degenerate reactionary ideology and the American outlook on value, which were employed as a guide to aggression, play the main role in aggression at present.

The imperialists consider the rising generation as the main target of their corrupt ideological and cultural poisoning.

Through films, newspapers, magazines and intranets and other media which the young people enjoy very much, the imperialists make them corrupt and degenerate and spread illusions about imperialism.

Those young people infected with luxury and enjoyment are reduced to renegades of their countries and stooges of imperialism unwittingly.

North Korean Defector: Return DPRK to State Sponsored Terrorism List

Some countries witnessed regime changes and government falls and the young people took the lead in causing such abnormal situations. That is because they were infected with the imperialist ideological and cultural poisoning.

The struggle in the ideological and cultural field is a war without gunfire. And a wrong struggle results in the worse consequences than the defeat in war.

The bourgeois ideological and cultural poisoning is more dangerous than a formidable enemy coming in attack with guns.

Any hesitation and concession to the ideological confrontation would give way to the bourgeois ideological and cultural poisoning and then it would make mess of the destiny of a nation and country.

The Amazing Kims: Mythology and the Cult of Personality in North Korea

FIRE files lawsuit on behalf of Illinois student detained by police for ‘Shut Down Capitalism’ flyers

Photo: Student Ivette Salazar was detained by campus police for passing out flyers critical of capitalism.

By  January 11, 2018

  • A campus police officer told student Ivette Salazar she has freedom of speech only if Joliet Junior College approves it.

CHICAGO, Jan. 11, 2018 — Joliet Junior College student Ivette Salazar only wanted to do what Americans do every day: exercise her First Amendment right to respond to an opposing viewpoint. For that, campus police detained her, confiscated her political flyers, and told her she has freedom of speech only if JJC gives its approval.

That’s not how the First Amendment works, and that’s why Salazar filed a lawsuit today against JJC. The lawsuit is the latest for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s Million Voices Campaign, which aims to free the voices of one million students by striking down unconstitutional speech codes nationwide.

On Nov. 28, after seeing members of a conservative student group distributing anti-socialism materials on campus, Salazar decided to provide an alternate viewpoint by distributing flyers from the Party for Socialism and Liberation that read “Shut Down Capitalism.” After being reported by campus staff, she was detained by JJC police for approximately 40 minutes, interrogated at the campus police station, and told she could not distribute her flyers because of the “political climate of the country.”

When Salazar asked the officers detaining her about her free speech rights, she said one JJC police officer told her, “If you want to go ahead and post your flyers and burn your crosses, you have to get it approved” by the school. Her flyers were confiscated to ensure that she did not distribute them on campus.
“Debating the merits of economic and governmental systems is core political speech,” said FIRE Director of Litigation Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon. “Campus police got it backward: The current ‘political climate’ is a reason for more speech, not censorship. If tense political times justified restricting political speech, the First Amendment would be pointless.”
FIRE wrote to JJC President Judy Mitchell on Dec. 4 to demand that the college comply with its legal obligations as a public institution bound by the First Amendment. FIRE did not receive a response to its letter.
“I should be able to express my political beliefs on campus without being detained,” said Salazar. “JCC didn’t just threaten my freedom of speech, but the freedom of speech of every student on that campus. If we can’t have political discussions on a college campus, then where can we have them?”
As part of her lawsuit, Salazar challenges the constitutionality of JJC’s “Free Speech Area” policy. The policy restricts expressive activity to one small, indoor area of campus, requires students to request use of the area five business days in advance, requires students to disclose the purpose of their speech, allows for only two people to use the area at a time, and requires students to remain behind a table. If a student wants to distribute literature while in the area, he or she also has to get the materials approved by administrators ahead of time.
Salazar’s lawsuit also alleges that JJC violated her Fourth Amendment rights by unlawfully detaining her.
Today’s lawsuit was filed in partnership with FIRE Legal Network member and former president of the First Amendment Lawyers Association Wayne Giampietro of Poltrock & Giampietro in Chicago. Giampietro serves as co-counsel with FIRE in the case.
“A public college should be teaching its students the existence and value of the freedoms protected by our federal and state constitutions, not violating those freedoms,” said Giampietro. “The First Amendment protects our most cherished right to speak freely on political matters. It is deplorable that public school employees, paid with our tax money, would detain, interrogate, and seize political materials from a student who is attempting to exercise that right.”
If you are a student who has been censored on campus, FIRE and its Legal Network partners stand ready to protect your First Amendment rights in court. Students interested in submitting their case to FIRE’s Million Voices Campaign may do so through FIRE’s online case submission form. Attorneys interested in joining FIRE’s Legal Network should apply on FIRE’s website.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.

Milo Yiannopoulos, Roger Stone Announce Anti-Trust Lawsuit Against Twitter

Award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author MILO is joining longtime Donald Trump advisor and Republican strategist Roger Stone in an anti-trust lawsuit against social media giant Twitter.

In July 2016 MILO made headlines when Twitter permanently suspended his account following a negative review he wrote of the newly released, all-female Ghostbusters movie.

Stone had his account permanently suspended in late 2017 after posting several tweets with expletives. Both contend they did not violate Twitter’s terms of service and were targeted instead for arbitrary reasons.

In a statement about MILO joining the lawsuit, Roger Stone said:

We continue to explore a broad lawsuit challenging Twitter’s censorship and the hypocrisy of their rules for online conduct which seem to be disproportionately levied against conservative voices in an obvious attempt to silence us. Verified tweeters call for my murder online every day, but Twitter doesn’t ban them.

We believe it is time to expose their manipulation of algorithms, ‘shadowbanning’ and other online techniques used to limit our reach. It’s time for Twitter to be regulated like a public utility or perish. I am heartened that my friend Milo is prepared to join our legal action along with other conservatives who have been gagged by the Twitter censors.

In a January 11 statement about the anti-trust case, MILO said:

I am Patient Zero of the Twitter war against conservatives and libertarians. The company declared war on free speech when it banned me in July 2016. At the time, I appreciated the free press. But I have come to realize that Twitter’s recklessness and bias toward conservatives and free thinkers represents a threat to free speech and democracy, such is Twitter’s monopolistic grip on journalistic discourse.

Footage released this week by investigative journalists at Project Veritas reveal a defiantly biased company whose hateful and divisive political attitudes are robbing libertarians and conservative journalists and media personalities of the right to freely express their opinions in the press.

The biggest tech debate of the next decade is whether technology companies, in particular social networks, should be regulated as public utilities. It is becoming increasingly clear, given their rampant abuses, that they should. And Twitter is the worst offender of them all.

Twitter Shadow Banning Undercover Video Released by Project Veritas

MILO discussed details of the case in an episode of his new show, THE MILO SHOW, located at dangerous.com, which first aired live on January 11, 2018.

Twitter Shadow Banning Undercover Video Released by Project Veritas

Steven Pierre, Twitter engineer explains “shadow banning,” says “it’s going to ban a way of talking”

Former Twitter software engineer Abhinav Vadrevu on shadow banning: “they just think that no one is engaging with their content, when in reality, no one is seeing it”

Former Twitter Content Review Agent Mo Norai explains banning process: “if it was a pro-Trump thing and I’m anti-Trump… I banned his whole account… it’s at your discretion”

When asked if banning process was an unwritten rule, Norai adds “Very. A lot of unwritten rules… It was never written it was more said”

Olinda Hassan, Policy Manager for Twitter Trust and Safety explains, “we’re trying to ‘down rank’… shitty people to not show up,” “we’re working [that] on right now”

“Shadow banning” to be used to stealthily target political views- former Twitter engineer says, “that’s a thing”

Censorship of certain political viewpoints to be automated via “machine learning” according to Twitter software engineer

Parnay Singh, Twitter Direct Messaging Engineer, on machine learning algorithms, “you have like five thousand keywords to describe a redneck…” “the majority of it are for Republicans”

————–

(San Francisco) In the latest undercover Project Veritas video investigation, current and former Twitter employees are on camera explaining steps the social media giant is taking to censor political content that they don’t like.

This video release follows the first undercover Twitter exposé Project Veritas released on January 10th which showed Twitter Senior Network Security Engineer Clay Haynes saying that Twitter is “more than happy to help the Department of Justice with their little [President Donald Trump] investigation.” Twitter responded to the video with a statementshortly after that release, stating “the individual depicted in this video was speaking in a personal capacity and does not represent of speak for Twitter.” The video released by Project Veritas today features eight employees, and a Project Veritas spokesman said there are more videos featuring additional employees coming.

On January 3rd 2018 at a San Francisco restaurant, Abhinov Vadrevu, a former Twitter Software Engineer explains a strategy, called “shadow banning,” that to his knowledge, Twitter has employed:

“One strategy is to shadow ban so you have ultimate control. The idea of a shadow ban is that you ban someone but they don’t know they’ve been banned, because they keep posting and no one sees their content. So they just think that no one is engaging with their content, when in reality, no one is seeing it.”

Twitter is in the process of automating censorship and banning, says Twitter Software Engineer Steven Pierre on December 8th of 2017:

“Every single conversation is going to be rated by a machine and the machine is going to say whether or not it’s a positive thing or a negative thing. And whether it’s positive or negative doesn’t (inaudible), it’s more like if somebody’s being aggressive or not. Right? Somebody’s just cursing at somebody, whatever, whatever. They may have point, but it will just vanish… It’s not going to ban the mindset, it’s going to ban, like, a way of talking.”

Olinda Hassan, a Policy Manager for Twitter’s Trust and Safety team explains on December 15th, 2017 at a Twitter holiday party that the development of a system of “down ranking” “shitty people” is in the works:

“Yeah. That’s something we’re working on. It’s something we’re working on. We’re trying to get the shitty people to not show up. It’s a product thing we’re working on right now.”

Former Twitter Engineer Conrado Miranda confirms on December 1st, 2017 that tools are already in place to censor pro-Trump or conservative content on the platform. When asked whether or not these capabilities exist, Miranda says, “that’s a thing.”

In a conversation with former Twitter Content Review Agent Mo Norai on May 16th, 2017, we learned that in the past Twitter would manually ban or censor Pro-Trump or conservative content. When asked about the process of banning accounts, Norai said, “On stuff like that it was more discretion on your view point, I guess how you felt about a particular matter…”

When asked to clarify if that process was automated Norai confirmed that it was not:

“Yeah, if they said this is: ‘Pro-Trump’ I don’t want it because it offends me, this, that. And I say I banned this whole thing, and it goes over here and they are like, ‘Oh you know what? I don’t like it too. You know what? Mo’s right, let’s go, let’s carry on, what’s next?’”

Norai also revealed that more left-leaning content would go through their selection process with less political scrutiny, “It would come through checked and then I would be like ‘Oh you know what? This is okay. Let it go.’”

Norai explains that this selection process wasn’t exactly Twitter policy, but rather they were following unwritten rules from the top:

“A lot of unwritten rules, and being that we’re in San Francisco, we’re in California, very liberal, a very blue state. You had to be… I mean as a company you can’t really say it because it would make you look bad, but behind closed doors are lots of rules.”

“There was, I would say… Twitter was probably about 90% Anti-Trump, maybe 99% Anti-Trump.”

At a San Francisco bar on January 5th, Pranay Singh details how the shadow-banning algorithms targeting right-leaning are engineered:

“Yeah you look for Trump, or America, and you have like five thousand keywords to describe a redneck. Then you look and parse all the messages, all the pictures, and then you look for stuff that matches that stuff.”

UNDERCOVER VIDEO: Sr Network Security Engineer Reveals Twitter Ready to Give Trump’s Private DMs to DOJ

When asked if the majority of the algorithms are targeted against conservative or liberal users of Twitter, Singh said, “I would say majority of it are for Republicans.”

Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe believes the power over speech Silicon Valley tech giants has is unprecedented and dangerous:

“What kind of world do we live in where computer engineers are the gatekeepers of the ‘way people talk?’ This investigation brings forth information of profound public importance that educates people about how free they really are to express their views online.”

Project Veritas plans to release more undercover video from within Twitter in the coming days.

Mr. O’Keefe has just completed a book about this series entitled “AMERICAN PRAVDA: My fight for Truth in the Era of Fake News.” The book will be released by St. Martin’s Press on January 16, 2018.

Guantanamo Bay Art Exhibit Stirs Controversy: Opportunity to Sign Petition

Muhammad Ansi, Crying Eye (Mother), 2015.

OPEN THROUGH JANUARY 26, 2018

PRESIDENT’S GALLERY, JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, NEW YORK

Visit exhibit online at https://www.artfromguantanamo.com/

Detainees at the United States military prison camp known as Guantánamo Bay have made art from the time they arrived. The exhibit will display some of these evocative works, made by eight men: four who have since been cleared and released from Guantánamo, and four who remain there. They paint the sea again and again although they cannot reach it.

Free and open to all. Enter at 899 10th Avenue (at 59th Street) and proceed to the President’s Gallery, on the 6th floor of Haaren Hall. Open Monday-Friday 9-5 pm.

Abdualmalik Abud, Yemen, 2015.
Ammar Al Baluchi, Vertigo at Guantanamo.
Ghaleb Al-Bihani, Lighthouse, 2016.
Djamel Ameziane, Interior, 2010.
Khalid Qasim, Large Sailboat on the Ocean, 2017, paint over gravel mixed with glue.
Muhammad Ansi, Hand Holding Red Flowers, 2015 (color photocopy of original and reverse, showing stamps indicating approval for release from Guantánamo).
Muhammad Ansi, Hands Holding Flowers through Bars, 2016.

NCAC Condemns Government Policy Depriving Americans of Access to Art by Guantanamo Detainees

New York, NY, 11/28/2017–An art exhibition at John Jay College in New York has provoked an abrupt change to government policy regarding art created by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. The Pentagon and Department of Defense have declared that all art created by detainees will henceforth become the property of the US government and may no longer be removed from the prison, even upon a detainee’s clearance and release. It has been suggested that the art will be destroyed. The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) vehemently objects to the violation of the public’s right to access this work and thus fully participate in the political conversation around Guantanamo. The new directive also violates the human rights of the detainees under international norms and further destruction of the work would impermissibly suppress documents of historical importance.

Since all art that leaves Guantanamo is subject to intense scrutiny by military officials, the new directive serves no legitimate national security purpose. The only purpose it appears to serve is to block the American public’s access to detainees’ artistic expression and stifle the public’s full participation in a national conversation about the US government’s policies in Guantanamo. Recognizing that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, most of whom remain held without charge, possess human imagination may inspire an uncomfortable empathy, but Americans have a right to fully examine their government’s policies and their effects. The American public now and in the future deserves access to such documents.

NCAC and the undersigned organizations fully support the curators at John Jay College and are intervening directly with the Pentagon and Department of Defense. This baseless policy change uses art as a political football in an effort to prevent these works—and a deeper understanding of those who created them—from informing public discussion of the policies the US government makes in its citizens’ names. We condemn this attempt to obstruct the American public discourse essential to a democratic and open society.

Co-signed by:

National Coalition Against Censorship

Aica International

Association of University Presses

College Art Association

Defending Rights & Dissent

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Freemuse

Free Speech Coalition

Harvard Islamic Society’s Anti-Islamophobia Network

Media Freedom Foundation

PEN America

Project Censored

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

Woodhull Foundation

Add your name to curator Erin Thompson’s petition to stop the destruction of art at Guantanamo.

Cody High School Urged to Keep Acclaimed Book in School Library

New York, NY 11/30/2017- Cody District Public Schools will convene a committee in early December to determine whether Tanya Stone’s acclaimed novel,A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, will remain in the Cody High School library after a single parent complaint led to an appeal for its removal. The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and co-signing organizations are urging Tim Foley, Assistant Superintendent of Cody District Public Schools, to keep the novel on library shelves. Allowing the views of one parent to influence what books belong in the school library privileges the subjective beliefs of one over the education of all and threatens students’ First Amendment rights.

In early November, a single parent complained about sexual content in A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girland demanded its removal from Cody High School Library. The school district plans to convene a complaint committee to review the book. NCAC and the assembled coalition of literary and educational organizations have sent a letter to Mr. Foley, as well as the Cody District Public Schools Governing Board, in advance of the upcoming committee meeting to offer guidance on their review of the book.

Decisions about what books to offer in school libraries should be based primarily on pedagogical principles and the expertise of trained educators, not the personal beliefs of community members. The educational and literary merits of a challenged book must be carefully considered. In this case, the novel in question has appeared on distinguished literary lists from the American Library Association, New York Public Library and School Library Journal.

As NCAC’s Youth Free Expression Program Manager, Abena Hutchful, explains, “Literature holds a unique place in helping young people cope with the challenges of growing up and books like A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl can provide a safe space to explore those challenges and develop empathy for others facing similar problems.”

While not every book is right for every reader, the role of school libraries is to allow students and parents to make choices according to their own interests, experiences and family values.  However, no parent, student or community member may impose their views, values and interests on others by restricting an entire community’s access to particular books.

NCAC has offered support and guidance to Cody District Public Schools in addressing this current attempt to censor student reading and in setting clearer guidelines for handling such book challenges in the future. The removal of this novel from the Cody High School library would limit student access to a necessary voice for many readers based on the disapproval of a vocal minority, setting a dangerous precedent for ignoring students’ First Amendment rights in the district.

Lenny Bruce-Inspired Play Cancelled at Brandeis: FIRE Responds with Powerful Open Letter

The mission of FIRE is to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience—the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity. FIRE was founded in 1999 by University of Pennsylvania professor Alan Charles Kors and Boston civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate.

Brandeis University: Cancellation of Lenny Bruce-inspired play

On Nov. 6, 2017, Brandeis University issued a statement announcing the cancellation of a planned production of the Michael Weller play, “Buyer Beware.” The play was reportedly postponed and subsequently abandoned, in part because it utilized material from the university’s Lenny Bruce archives — material that some within the university found “challenging.” During his lifetime, comedian Lenny Bruce was subjected to six obscenity trials, purportedly for words that today are regularly used in all forms of artistic expression. These prosecutions left Bruce bankrupt and unable to work before dying in 1966 at the age of 40. Given the history of censorship that contributed to Bruce’s early death, a group of free speech advocates wrote to Brandeis President Ronald Liebowitz on Nov. 13, sensitive to the possibility that Bruce’s words may again have been censored and asking him for more details about the cancellation of “Buyer Beware.”

An open letter to Brandeis regarding the cancellation of Lenny Bruce-inspired play, ‘Buyer Beware’

By  November 13, 2017

November 13, 2017

Ronald D. Liebowitz
Office of the President, MS 100
Irving Enclave 113
Brandeis University
415 South Street
Waltham, MA 02453
781-736-3001

URGENT

Sent via U.S. Mail and Electronic Mail (president@brandeis.edu)

Dear President Liebowitz,

We are a group of free speech advocates with a resilient interest in comedian Lenny Bruce’s life and legacy. We write to you today because we are concerned by recent reports that a play scheduled to be staged this month at Brandeis University was postponed and subsequently abandoned, in part because it utilized material from the university’s Lenny Bruce archives — material that some within the university found “challenging.” We call upon Brandeis to reaffirm the principles of freedom of expression, inquiry, and debate upon which any institution of higher education must be based, and to commit itself to engaging with the challenging material in the play by staging it as intended — not censoring it.

It is our understanding that the play, “Buyer Beware,” written by celebrated playwright and Brandeis alumnus Michael Weller, uses excerpts and ideas from Lenny Bruce’s routines as catalysts for a fictional debate about free speech on Brandeis’ campus. Lenny Bruce’s comedy has long been both controversial and groundbreaking. During his lifetime, he was subjected to six obscenity trials, purportedly for words that today are regularly used in all forms of artistic expression. These prosecutions left Bruce bankrupt and unable to work before dying in 1966 at the age of 40. “We drove him into poverty and bankruptcy and then murdered him,” said Vincent Cuccia, one of Bruce’s New York prosecutors. “We all knew what we were doing. We used the law to kill him.”

Americans have since recognized the injustices dealt to Bruce. He was the last comedian to be criminally prosecuted for obscenity in the United States. Today, Bruce is revered as a champion of free speech and First Amendment principles — so much so that he was posthumously pardoned by New York Governor George Pataki in 2003. His life story serves as a cautionary tale of what happens when we censor artistic expression.

Given this history, the undersigned are sensitive to the possibility that Bruce’s words may again be censored. Our unease is amplified by the fact that such censorship may occur at Brandeis University, named after the staunch free speech advocate and United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Our concern is all the greater insofar as the university is the institutional custodian of the Lenny Bruce archives and much of Bruce’s legacy.

A 2004 box set of Bruce’s comedy was titled “Let the Buyer Beware.” Perhaps not coincidentally, “Buyer Beware” is also the title of Weller’s play. Surely when Brandeis accepted the responsibility of preserving Bruce’s archives within its library, it well understood the risks associated with doing so — caveat emptor — and tacitly, if not explicitly, agreed that it would spare Bruce the injustice of committing or enabling his posthumous censorship.

In a statement responding to the cancellation of the fall production of “Buyer Beware,” Brandeis announced that “faculty members considered the challenging issues [the play] raised” and decided that more time was needed to produce the play “appropriately.” The statement goes on to relinquish the university’s responsibility for the play’s subsequent cessation by foisting responsibility upon Weller, who did not approve of this more “appropriate” production, which subsequent reports indicate was not even presented to him. According to a statement from the Dramatists Guild of America and the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund, Weller “has heard only indirectly about the possibility of doing it at ‘a 60-seat black box theatre in Watertown that has some lights, and a budget for one or two professional actors.’”

Numerous reports indicate that the decision to forestall the planned production of “Buyer Beware” comes amid a concerted effort by some Brandeis students and alumni to cancel the play. The campaign was allegedly led by a Brandeis alumna, who reportedly admitted to having never read the play’s script, yet claimed that it “is an overtly racist play and will be harmful to the student population if staged.” Scholars of Bruce’s life know well that attempts at prior restraint are insidious and beget more censorship. Indeed, after Bruce was first prosecuted in one court, additional prosecutions soon followed. “Don’t lock up these 6,000 words,” Bruce pleaded to one New York City judge during a court hearing.

We write to ask for more details about Brandeis’ decision to cancel this month’s production of “Buyer Beware.” What material, exactly, did the university consider too “challenging” for its students and faculty? And why, when an agreement could not be reached with Weller to find a more “appropriate” setting for the play, did the university decide not to stage the production as intended, and instead defaulted to functionally censoring the “challenging” material instead of openly engaging with it?

We call upon Brandeis University to answer these questions in a manner consistent with the principles of freedom of speech to which the university claims to commit itself, principles that are integral components of Lenny Bruce’s and Louis Brandeis’ legacies. If it cannot, we ask you to immediately reverse the decision to cancel this month’s production of “Buyer Beware” and to reinvite Weller to stage it as intended. The play itself presents a direct challenge to the university —  according to The Brandeis Hoot: “If Lenny Bruce came to life right now, for one day, and he was booked for a gig on campus. How would the administration react?”

Again, we urge the university to commit itself to reinviting Weller to stage “Buyer Beware” as intended, thereby defending the very free speech principles for which Lenny Bruce fought throughout his life.

To you, President Liebowitz, we repeat the question and also ask: Did the Lenny Bruce archives end up in the “appropriate” place?

We look forward to hearing from you by Friday, November 17.

Sincerely,

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Kitty Bruce
Daughter of Lenny Bruce
Founder, The Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation

Penn Jillette
Comedian and magician, Penn & Teller

Robert Corn-Revere
Partner, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
Attorney responsible for successfully petitioning Governor George E. Pataki to grant the first posthumous pardon in New York history to Lenny Bruce in 2003

Ronald K.L. Collins
Harold S. Shefelman Scholar
University of Washington, School of Law
Co-author, The Trials of Lenny Bruce

David M. Skover
Fredric C. Tausend Professor of Constitutional Law
Seattle University School of Law
Co-Author, The Trials of Lenny Bruce

Noam Dworman
Owner, Comedy Cellar

Ted Balaker
Director, Can We Take a Joke?, a film about the life and legacy of Lenny Bruce

Courtney Balaker
Producer, Can We Take a Joke?

Photo: Lenny Bruce Arrest, Examiner Press, 1961, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.