Jewish World Review March 7, 2000 /30 Adar 1, 5760
Back in the 1980s, the Reagan administration objected to IRS efforts to deny normal tax exempt status to educational institutions like BJU because they held to fringey views on race. Liberals demanded a cutoff. "Let the school do its discriminating on its own dollar," wrote Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. "We should not as taxpayers be forced to help support Bob Jones in its pursuit of bigotry." Anthony Lewis, the New York Timesí liberal stalwart, insisted the universityís complaint that the IRS had infringed upon its First Amendment right to freedom of religion was just a smoke screen.
Now flash forward to September 1999. Rudy Giuliani has called for an end to New York Cityís government subsidies for the Brooklyn Museum on account of its anti-Catholic "Sensation" exhibit. Suddenly many of the same people who dismissed Bob Jonesí claim to constitutional rights of free expression emerged as the reincarnation of Thomas Jefferson. Forcing artists to pay for their own dung and porn with which to adorn the Virgin Mary was an oppressive suggestion.
New York City "cannot play the role of curator," expounded Richard Cohen. "It has to bite its tongue. Boldness, daring, experimentation, the artistic imagination itself, will surely suffer if politicians like Giuliani use the power of government to police creativity."
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), who had sputtered back in the Ď80s that allowing Bob Jones its non-profit status would be the same as "subsidizing racist activity," now argued that while "the exhibit was insulting," guardians of the public purse have no right "to direct what should happen in our museums."
The New York Times, which was all for economically penalizing Bob Jonesí free expression, now editorialized against trampling on the cherished First Amendment rights of the Brooklyn Museum to offend Catholics without political interference.
And so on.
In one case, liberals argued that it was important for the government to withhold financial advantages from institutions transmitting odious messages. In the other case, they insisted it would be wrong to withhold financial largesse from institutions with odious messages. Itís hard not to conclude that the crucial difference lies not in the portrayal of Catholicism but in the fact that liberals find Bob Jones University repugnant but Brooklynís "Sensation" exhibit perfectly acceptable.
Fine. Liberals are entitled to make value judgments (even if they pretend they donít). But how about a little consistency? Donít use the First Amendment as a smokescreen for your particular moral preferences and sensibilities.
If Bush were smart--if being the operative word--he could use the Bob Jones incident for a sharp discussion of the appropriate circumstances for denying government subsidies. What a great chance to puncture the Leftís First Amendment pretensions. Fine, you donít want the bozos at Bob Jones to get government money. Then letís also pull the plug on the bozos at the Brooklyn Museum.
That kind of approach might let Bush turn the issue to his advantage. It would likely resonate more than the belated, lame apology heís offered instead.
If he really wanted to force the issue, he would arrange for some federal funding to send the anti-Catholic "Sensation" exhibit (which has ended its Brooklyn Museum run) to Bob Jones. If the university is as anti-Catholic as John McCain and the media shriekers maintain, the Jonesers should welcome it.
And the hand-wringing among liberals trying to choose sides would be of Biblical
02/03/00: The red and the Black: The Left-wing Extremist in Bill Bradleyís Camp