Finely V. The National Endowment For The Arts: One Battle In America's War Over The Arts

1647 words - 7 pages

Finely v. the National Endowment for the Arts:One Battle in America's War over the ArtsIn June of 1998, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley deciding to uphold the status quo. In an eight to one decision the Supreme Court upheld that Section 954(d)(1), the "decency and respect" clause, passed by congress in 1990. On the surface this judgment is a settlement against public funding of the arts and artistic expression in the United States, and by simply up holding the status quo appears to be one of the lesser declarations by the Supreme Court in the area of First Amendment rights. It was in reality the fine text of the majority and minority opinions show it to be a case of landmark precedence in the manner in which it was decided highly convoluted and politically expedient pronouncement. The Supreme Court used complicated legal maneuverings to support the Endowment's creative interpretation of the clause, while at the same time avoiding a confrontation with congress general by declaring its clause unconstitutional. An action that would rule in favor of the Arts in this country, but had a high probability of inflaming congress to further act against a beleaguered National Endowment, and the Arts in general.The clause which had been challenged by Finely et al on the grounds that it was "(1) impermissibly vague under the Fifth Amendment, and (2) it violated the First Amendment on its face by imposing content-based restrictions on protected speech." (Cunnane, 1) was part of a greater amendment to the National Foundation for the Arts and Humanities Act enacted by congress in reaction to a public controversy in 1989.In that year two highly controversial works funded by the Endowment caused a severe backlash against the Arts by conservatives. The first was a retrospective of the works of Robert Maplethorpe under the title "The Perfect Moment" This retrospective collection was politically volatile for it included homoerotic photographs. They were condemned by several congressmen as pornographic and promotive of homosexuality. While in the political climate of today, only ten years later, such photos would not even gain the attention of congress, in 1989 homosexuality was a highly restricted and violent topic. Today, Maplethorpe's works are considered by both sides to be pivotal to the increased acceptance of homosexuality in our society. The second work was a photograph by Andres Serrano, entitled "Piss Christ," a picture of a crucifix purportedly immersed in urine. Immediately this work was declared blasphemous, and Senator Jesse Helms, the opposition leader stated that it, "taunt[ed] a large segment of the American people . . . about their Christian faith." The irony and statement of this work dismissed by the offended was that people who viewed the photograph unknowing of its title were time and again impressed by the beauty of the piece. Together these works inflamed a national grass roots...

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