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Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 1999 /1 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Don Feder

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I'll be over to your house, to exercise my First Amendment rights -- I NEED YOUR MONEY to promote my column. So, I want you empty your wallet or pocketbook (just the currency, you can keep the change) and send me the contents. A refusal would constitute interference with the exercise of my First Amendment rights.

I would like to come into your home during dinner this evening and harangue you on a variety of political topics. If you bar the door, you are a censor intent on suppressing my freedom of expression.

That is the logical extension of the most fatuous argument advanced by the lobotomized left in defense of public funding for anti-Christian art on display at the Brooklyn Museum.

The museum gets $7 million annually from New York City. Mayor and prospective Senate candidate Rudolph Giuliani has threatened to yank this support over the show, "Sensation: Young British Artists." One of the sensationally immature Brits has committed something called "The Holy Virgin Mary," an icon done in elephant dung.

Liberals are convinced that when the First Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech," it really means "government must fund artistic expression -- even when it offends the deepest sensibilities of millions of taxpayers."

In other words, artists can't express themselves without state subsidies.

To deny government grants to painters (or the museums that exhibit their works) is to gag them, to break their easels and brushes, and to pollute their palettes.

Or as Hillary Rodham Clinton -- also a probable Senate candidate as well as a First Amendment scholar -- put it, "Our feelings of being offended should not lead to penalizing and shutting down an entire museum."

Shutting down? Is Giuliani sending the police to Brooklyn to chase museum-goers from the premises, smash the offending work and padlock the doors?

For the first lady, cutting funding for a cultural forum she favors is the same as brown-shirted brutes consigning controversial books to the flames.

Something tells me that Ms. Rodham would be far less tolerant if that which she reveres were under attack. If government gelt went to displaying a portrait of, say, Betty Friedan covered in excrement, there Hillary would most certainly draw the line.

If the First Amendment requires subsidies for art, then government is committing countless of acts of censorship daily.

Obviously, only a tiny fraction of the paintings, sculptures and photography produced in this country each year is patronized by government. That must mean the rest is being censored?

Who decides what art is worthy of support? Do we poll the American people? ("All in favor of paying for a showing of Adres Serrano's 'Piss Christ' please raise your hands"?) If the majority ruled, the National Endowment for the Arts would simply transfer its annual appropriation to the Norman Rockwell Museum.

The public has no say in the matter. Instead, the NEA and other arts agencies dole out millions to favored institutions run by an aesthetic elite that determines where the money goes.

Increasingly, the taste of this avant-garde runs to representations or displays of -- feces, urine, sadomasochism, same-sex erotica, carcasses, severed heads, vomit, genitalia, the desecration of sacred objects and other therapy projects of mental patients.

It is good for the public to be exposed to this stuff, the arts elite tells us. It's provocative. It challenges us.

Naturally, it is only middle-class mores and Judeo-Christian traditions that must be challenged, never the values and vision of the cognoscenti. Imagine how they'd react to a painting of Robert Mapplethorpe in hell, adorned with a suitable verse from Leviticus.

If a right can only be exercised through the treasury, then the Government Printing Office is abridging the religious liberty of millions of Protestants by not producing King James Bibles to meet the annual demand.

By not providing hunting rifles and pistols for members of the National Rifle Association, government is violating their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. And by not buying media outlets for everyone with a political opinion, it has nullified freedom of the press.

So, when I show up at your doorstep this evening, you can either allow me to expound my theories on your property or you will stand exposed as a club-wielding member of the thought police.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder can be reached by clicking here.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate