Clinton joins Bush appeal seeking to reinstate decency rule Action is surprise to many art groups

April 06, 1993|By New York Times News Service

The U.S. Department of Justice has appealed the decision by a federal judge in Los Angeles in June that declared unconstitutional the so-called decency standard, which required the National Endowment for the Arts to "take into consideration general standards of decency" when awarding grants.

The action took many arts groups by surprise. Although the Bush administration had filed a notice of intent to appeal the decision, it was generally believed that the election of Bill Clinton had effectively killed the issue.

Spokesmen for several arts groups said, if successful, the government's appeal, which was filed last Tuesday, would politicize the arts endowment in violation of pledges in last year's Democratic Party platform along with campaign advertisements to keep the federal arts agency "free from political manipulation and firmly rooted in the First Amendment's freedom-of-expression guarantees."

Jon Cummings, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union, said he thought the brief had been "prepared under the supervision of Bush holdovers at the Justice Department."

He added that since there were only about two weeks between the time Janet Reno, the new attorney general, was sworn in March 30, when the brief was filed, Ms. Reno or a deputy might have approved it without being fully aware of its significance.

Joseph Krovisky, a spokesman for the civil division of the Justice Department, denied that assertion. "The brief was authorized by the old administration and it was cleared and approved by the new one," he said.

The decency standard was passed by Congress three years ago as part of a compromise that ended a long, rancorous debate over the future of the arts endowment, which had been provoked by cries of outrage over photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano.

The decency standard placated conservatives but became a red flag for many artists and arts administrators who argued that decency was in the eye of the beholder and not "culture police."

The decency rule was challenged by four artists of sexually explicit material who were seeking to reinstate grants denied by the arts endowment.

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