Radical Muslims Aren't Alone
By Tibor Machan - December 04, 2010

So it turns out that contrary to widespread impression, the American government is just as willing to step all over people's right to free expressions as are governments in what are deemed more tyrannical countries. News has it that the Washington based Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery "is removing a video after complaints from a Catholic group that the images were sacrilegious." A video by the artist David Wojnarowicz is supposed to be "hate speech," according to Catholic League President Bill Donohue. The video depicted a swarm of ants crawling on a crucified Christ figure. He contended that it was meant to insult Christians and this warranted its being removed – that is, banned.

The museum's director argued that the video wasn't meant to be offensive but he ordered it removed. Wow! Even if it had been intended to offend or insult anyone, Christian, Jew, atheist, agnostic, what have you, there is no justification for government's banning the work except if the National Portrait Gallery is a not a private outfit. And indeed, it is federally funded and thus, logically, subject to direction that ultimately derives from the American quasi-democratic political process. So, again logically, the Gallery isn't a free institution like a privately owned establishment showing art to people wishing to see it and funded by people wishing to display it. No, it is funded by often unwilling taxpayers and, thus, it is beholden to many whose judgment may disagree with that of the Gallery's administrators.

Here is a great instance of how public funding and management of society's various institutions and activities will naturally, logically lead to censorship. Actually, is it censorship or is it simply the politicization of culture? Hate speech? Give me a break. If that sufficed to relegate the matter to public authority then innumerable programs on cable television could be banned by the government. Certainly Penn & Teller's wonderful Showtime feature "B****hit" would have to go immediately, given how often the two famous Las Vegas comics – and, incidentally(?) libertarians – ridicule prominent elements of American culture, including religion. A while back the program took on the Bible, of all things, making mincemeat of its various factual or historical claims and certainly deriding much of its theological content.

So perhaps that's next, shutting down a privately produced and funded cable TV program! (Certainly Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia would have to approve of this, given how a little bug in him desires both FOX and MSNBC cable TV shut down!) And certainly what the Gallery did, however much it had logic on its side, doesn't differ very much from what radical Muslims did when those Danish newspapers published cartoons in which the founder of Islam was ridiculed.

No, in America most people who would want to impose religions doctrines on others do not usually go about burning down churches – although there have been several who have done just that when they disagreed with what some churches preach. But it is not far fetched to fear that, with more and more people thinking that whatever is within the public realm is subject to government control and management, what transpired at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery in Washington may soon be routine. This because even though many galleries are not public, they could be acting criminally by publishing and displaying "hate speech"! So even being private will not serve to legally protect them from attacks from zealots.

In a free country no gallery would be public and no government interference in what galleries display would be legally acceptable. Only through boycotts and ostracism could one shut down a gallery, not as public policy.

But this is not a free country! It sadly contains numerous elements of a police state. The reason is that more and more aspects of our social and economic life are coming under public supervision, even outright public ownership. Next the banks, which were recently bailed out with public funds, will be ordered to remove works of art from their lobbies if these to not meet with the approval of politicians and bureaucrats.

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