Statement by Holly Hughes, plaintiff/respondent,
on the U.S. Supreme Court "Decency" Ruling.
June 30, 1998

After the hearing everyone wanted to know - the assembled press - whether we thought we had won or not.

I tried to imagine what a victory in this case would look like. Even if the court had managed to uphold the lower courts' decisions, a reassertion that decency language was unconstitutional would do nothing to repair the damage done in the past ten years by right wing forces aided by dems in need of some political viagra...

There is no more NEA funding for individual artists, that's gone, kaput, finito. The NEA has been cut severely... I think it consists of two temp workers and a borrowed fax machine. They don't have enough to cash to buy a latte.

A "victory" wouldn't have restored the NEA, let alone done anything to move the agency in the direction I think it needed to go in... i.e., to become MORE adventurous and LESS conservative.

A "victory" wouldn't have erased the political capital organizations like The Christian Coalition, The American Family Ass. and others have built for themselves by attacking spending for controversial and especially queer art. Ralph Reed managed to catapult himself out of the margins into the political mainstream on this issue. I don't mean to say that the right has gotten less white supremacist or anti feminist, just that they have successfully used attacks on art as a giant bake sale to build up bucks for other less profitable causes like killing abortion doctors, gutting the social safety net and fighting affirmative action, etc.

And after watching the court "hear" the case I am not surprised by the decision.

Actually the decision that most angers me is that of Clinton's . . . his decision to bring this case before this incredibly conservative court. It's another one of his betrayals of the people who elected him, right up there with DOMA, so called welfare reform, don't ask, don't tell, and the humiliations of Jocelyn Elders and Lani Guinier. Unfortunately I could go on and on.

This is a horrifying decision that will have, I fear ramifications in many areas from AIDS education to public health and education, higher education and reproductive rights. I could go on and on but my hope is that groups out there will go on and on, making connections and building coalitions. Unfortunately, this issue has failed to excite much organizing except by the right.

Some have opined the decision is "not so bad" because the court says that if this were viewpoint discrimination it'd be illegal. The duplicity and dishonesty of the majority opinion reeks of privilege; it's almost Orwellian in its double think. As a queer feminist I "know" what decency means. It's another code word along the lines of "states rights and family values."

Cornell West said we are living in an ICE AGE and I think this decision will be another sharp dangerous pile of whiteness in this bleak landscape. After all, we are living in a time when we'd rather let people die rather than promote drug use through needle exchange, we are willing to let people die rather than get safer sex information, we'd rather send African Americans to jail than school. We have successfully scapegoated immigrants, poor women, queers, people of color, unions and intellectuals for the economic devastation brought about by global capitalism. (If only there were the coalition of those groups that the right imagines!)

Thanks to all NAAO members for their courage.

Copyright 1998 Holly Hughes

Copyright on the statement above is held by the author, Holly Hughes, who has kindly given permission to this site to post the statement on the World Wide Web. You are welcome to set up a hyperlink to this page. You may also print, download, and reproduce these statements in full for educational, personal, non-profit, or scholarly purposes.

Copyright on the Site, "Freedom of Expression at the National Endowment for the Arts":

Copyright 1996, 1997, 1998 Julie C. Van Camp

Permission is hereby given to print, download, and reproduce these materials for educational, personal, non-profit, or scholarly purposes, but only if the copyright notice and this permission notice are reprinted in full with each copy. This material may not be sold or otherwise used for commercial purposes.

Nothing in this material should be considered legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should consult with experienced legal counsel. The views here are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Bar Association, California State University, or the National Endowment for the Arts.

This page maintained by Julie Van Camp, California State University, Long Beach.

Your comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome:

Last updated: June 30, 1998