The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an established religion, or prohibiting the exercise thereof'; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." This amendment, founded on the strong and open minds of the Founding Fathers, made certain that free speech be incorporated into America's free and democratic society.
Of course, the question eventually arose, "What qualifies as free speech?" and the literal interpretation taken by the majority was questioned. Like many who adhere to the notion of free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, Supreme Court Justice William 0. Douglas best expressed this collective opinion when he stated the following:
It is our attitude toward free thought and free expression that will determine our fate. There must be no limit on the range of temperate discussion, no limits on thought. No subject must be taboo. No censor must preside at our assemblies... Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions." (Leone 14)
The practice of the above-mentioned "censorship" is a growing controversy of the past decade that will undoubtedly continue into the next.
As America crosses into the next millenium, the fine line between freedom of expression and the freedom of those to crusade against it will grow very thin. One of the biggest controversies that hovers around freedom of expression is the debate about whether or not the government has any business funding the Arts and should they have restrictions. Performance and visual arts are often funded by the government, specifically the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts), and the biggest problem regarding funding is the issue of what constitutes as good or bad art and how the government can judge. A majority of the nation, up until recent visual and performance art legislation was proposed in congress, hadn't been made aware that they, the taxpayers, were supporting any form of art. It wasn't until the recent attacks on the NEA, an agency designed to fund grants to certain projects, that taxpayers paid attention. The government's funding of the arts is a highly controversial issue that argues some of the most basic philosophical questions regarding the subjective and objective views of aesthetic value.
Who is to say a work of art is good or bad? But the underlying issue is whether or not the government funding should be restricted. One of the most thought-provoking concepts and quite possibly the answer to the problem is the idea supported by Douglas's statement: "Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions" (14).
In 1965, when Congress established the National Endowment of the Arts, it was clearly stated in the Declaration of Purpose, "It is necessary and appropriate...