Court upholds decency standard

NEA given greenlight to reject grants

WASHINGTON — Cultural conservatives scored a victory Thursday when the Supreme Court ruled the National Endowment for the Arts has the right to reject a grant request because it does not meet a congressionally prescribed standard of decency.

The decision will make it easier for the NEA to operate in a Republican-controlled Congress, but the lawyer for artists who brought the lawsuit said it ignores the “real world chilling effect” of the decency standard.

But NEA’s new chairman William Ivey applauded the Supreme Court decision saying it is a “reaffirmation of the agency’s discretion in funding the highest quality art in America.”

The Supreme Court case traces its roots back to the NEA’s decision back in the 1980s to fund controversial artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serano. Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic photos and Serano’s photos, one of which featured a crucifix dunked in a jar of urine, earned the ire of congressional conservatives.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said Thursday the Supreme Court decision “validated the right of American people to not pay for art that offends their sensibilities.”

In 1990 Congress adopted legislation that requires the NEA, when awarding grants, to take into account “the general standard of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public.”

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)