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August 16_ 2004 Dear Mayor Hickenlooper_ The National Coalition


									                                                                275 Seventh Avenue, Suite 1504     Joan E. Bertin
                                                                                                   Executive Director
                                                                           New York, NY 10001
                                                                             tel: (212) 807-6222
                                                                             fax: (212) 807-6245
                                                                          e-mail:    NCAC PARTICIPATING
                                                                                                   Actors’ Equity Association
                                                                                                   American Association of
                                                                                                     School Administrators
                                                                                                   American Association of
                                                                                                     University Professors
                                                                                                   American Association of
                                                                                                     University Women

August 16, 2004                                                                                    American Booksellers Foundation
                                                                                                     for Free Expression
                                                                                                   American Civil Liberties Union

Dear Mayor Hickenlooper,                                                                           American Ethical Union
                                                                                                   American Federation of Teachers
                                                                                                   American Federation of Television
                                                                                                     & Radio Artists
The National Coalition Against Censorship, an alliance of 50 national non-profit                   American Jewish Committee
organizations that collaborate to defend First Amendment rights, and the American                  American Jewish Congress
                                                                                                   American Library Association
Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, have been alerted to the recent removal of sever-               American Literary Translators
al works of art from an installation at Denver International Airport. This action has                 Association
                                                                                                   American Orthopsychiatric Association
serious First Amendment implications, and we strongly urge you to reconsider.                      American Society of Journalists
                                                                                                     & Authors
                                                                                                   Americans United for Separation of
“The Luggage Project” received approval from the DIA arts program and was                            Church & State
                                                                                                   Association of American Publishers
installed at DIA on July 7, 2004. Two days later, on July 9, three of the works in the             Authors Guild Foundation
installation were removed, apparently in response to complaints from persons who                   Catholics For a Free Choice
                                                                                                   Children’s Literature Association
believed that the pieces were “offensive,” “disturbing,” and “inappropriate.” Ac-                  College Art Association
cording to DIA officials, the removed artworks also violated an airport policy ban-                Directors Guild of America
                                                                                                   Dramatists Guild of America
ning art containing “violence” or “political statements.” The allegedly objectionable              First Amendment Lawyers Association
material included box cutters, red paint splatter, political bumper stickers, and toy              International Reading Association
                                                                                                   Lambda Legal
missiles.                                                                                          Modern Language Association
                                                                                                   National Center for Science Education
                                                                                                   National Communication Association
Official suppression of disfavored, unpopular, and controversial ideas and view-                   National Council for the Social Studies
points is the chief evil targeted by the First Amendment. The works in question of-                National Council of the Churches
                                                                                                      of Christ
fer artists’ reflections on the theme of travel, and include personal perspectives on              National Council of Jewish Women

recent national events. That they provoked discussion and thought is their virtue,                 National Council of Teachers of English
                                                                                                   National Education Association
not their defect. To silence dialogue on issues which lie at the center of American                Office of Communication,

society is the most destructive kind of censorship; it violates not only the principle                 United Church of Christ
                                                                                                   PEN American Center
of free speech, but also disrupts the fundamental national ideal of democratic                     People for the American Way

debate.                                                                                            Planned Parenthood Federation
                                                                                                      of America
                                                                                                   Screen Actors Guild
                                                                                                   Sexuality Information & Education
Plainly, complaints that the works are “offensive” triggered their removal. In                        Council of the U.S.

responding as it did to these complaints, the city conferred its official stamp of                 Society of Children’s Book Writers
                                                                                                      & Illustrators
approval on this viewpoint, while suppressing other views about the meaning and                    Student Press Law Center
                                                                                                   The Creative Coalition
suitability of the art. Courts have consistently condemned government efforts to                   The Newspaper Guild/CWA
suppress particular viewpoints while permitting others to be expressed. Even the                   Union for Reform Judaism
                                                                                                   Union of Democratic Intellectuals
mere appearance of viewpoint discrimination has been enough for federal courts to                  Unitarian Universalist Association
strike down government display restrictions. (See AIDS Action Committee v. Mas-                    United Methodist Communications,
                                                                                                      United Methodist Church
sachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, 42 F.3d 1 (1st Cir., 1994).)                              Women’s American ORT
                                                                                                   Writers Guild of America, East
                                                                                                   Writers Guild of America, West
The removal of the pieces cannot be justified as an effort to rid the airport of
reminders about the events of September 11th. This would be patently absurd.
Airports across the country are replete with reminders of terrorism and national security issues, from
the presence of armed uniformed officers to increased security provisions and signs about terrorism.
Nor is the alleged policy against “violent” and “political” content an adequate explanation. First of all,
it lacks credibility, given the murals by Leo Tanguma permanently installed in the airport. These murals
contain dead bodies, machine guns, and demonic figures— images that, by comparison, highlight the
innocuousness of the splattered paint at issue in the removed works. Second, it disregards the crucial
value of political speech in a democratic society. And finally, such a general ban invites abuse, since
the determination of what is “political” or “violent” is highly subjective. Such unbounded discretion is
inconsistent with the First Amendment.

One of the three works initially removed from the installation was subsequently restored because,
according to the official responsible, it was only “borderline offensive” – a fact that demonstrates the
ultimate arbitrariness of the decision. The lack of consistency and the arbitrary exercise of discretion
create a chilling effect on expression. Comparably vague standards of decision and the inevitably incon-
sistent enforcement they engender have persuaded federal courts to invalidate similar policies on First
Amendment grounds. (See Planned Parenthood Association v. Chicago Transit Authority, 767 F. 2d 1225
(7th Cir., 1985); Hopper v. City of Pasco, 241 F.3d 1067 (9th Cir., 2001).)

For the above reasons, we urge you to reconsider the removal of artwork from “The Luggage Project.”
Such censorious action not only violates the principles of free expression that are enshrined in the First
Amendment; it also contradicts the Denver International Airport’s efforts to support the arts. Early
this year, the Los Angeles International Airport rejected similar complaints about an arts installation,
and instead embraced the idea that public art should promote open dialogue, not official orthodoxy. To
remain a world-class airport renowned for its architectural and aesthetic achievements, DIA should do
the same.

Svetlana Mintcheva                                   Mark Silverstein
Director, Arts Program                               Legal Director
National Coalition Against Censprship                ACLU of Colorado

Denise Montgomery                                    Elbra Wedgeworth
Director                                             President
Mayor’s Office of Art, Culture and Film              City Council
1380 Lawrence Street, Ste. 790                       1437 Bannock Street, Ste. 451
Denver, CO 80204                                     Denver, Colorado 80202
Fax: 303-640-6960                                    Fax: 303-298-9716

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