Defining obscenity is a difficult enough task for the courts, but for legislative bodies it is hopeless, and any serious attempt to legislate standards of art will inevitably produce politically purified art like that found in Goebbels' Germany or Stalin's Russia.
Yet that's just what Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., is yearning to do. Using isolated and extreme examples of artistic projects, Helms managed to buffalo both the House and the Senate into adopting measures to restrict the artistic content of works which are supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.
On sober second thought, Senate-House conferees stripped the outlandish restrictions Helms proposed from the NEA's appropriation bill and substituted more reasonable, moderate language. The bill goes back to the full Congress this week.
We trust that Maryland's lawmakers will support the considered judgment of the conference committee over the heavy-handed restrictions proposed by Jesse Helms.