art censorship

American Family Association Takes Aim at Public Art in Kansas

The American Family Association of Kansas and Missouri, the state-level chapter of the national AFA led by the husband and wife team Phillip and Cathy Cosby, lists as its number one priority: “Promoting sexual integrity and confronting the pornification of our culture in all venues, secular and sacred.”

As part of this mission, the Cosbys have taken it upon themselves to wage a years-long campaign to remove one statue owned and publicly displayed by the city of Overland Park, Kansas – a campaign that has included multiple public petitions and a change in state law, and has forced the city of Overland Park to rack up $35,000 in legal fees.

Now, the Cosbys are starting the process all over again, hoping to force the city to once again pay thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend its right to display the art in its collection.

The statue in question, called “Accept or Reject,” was given to the city in 2011 by a Chinese artist as part of a cultural exchange and is currently on display in the town’s arboretum. I’ll let Phil Cosby describe it: "It is a nine-foot-tall bronze statue of a totally nude woman. Her arm is extended, and she's taking a picture of herself, in essence sexting herself."

Here’s a picture of Phillip Cosby with the sculpture in question (the signage is his):

Cosby contends that “Accept or Reject” is not only “toxic,” but that it violates Kansas’ anti-obscenity statute and should therefore be removed from the public park.

Last year, Cosby used a novel tactic to try to get the statue removed. Kansas is one of six states that allows for “citizens grand juries” – grand juries called by a petition of citizens rather than a prosecutor. The 1887 Kansas law has been revived in the last several years by right-wing activists to go after abortion providers and pornography.” In 2006 and again in 2008, anti-choice activists gathered enough signatures to launch a grand jury investigation of Wichita abortion provider George Tiller. Tiller’s attorney described the process as “a perfect example of a system which has virtually become active vigilantism.” The year after the second investigation, Tiller was assassinated by an anti-choice extremist.

In the mid-2000s, Cosby used the law to launch grand jury investigations into 20 adult bookstores and a handful of strip clubs, which he claimed violated obscenity laws.

So last year, Cosby returned to the “citizens grand jury plan, gathering enough signatures on a petition to convene a grand jury to investigate whether “Accept or Reject” was criminally obscene. The grand jury dismissed the case within a day, but that didn’t stop Cosby’s crusade. Instead, he contended that the jury dismissed the case because prosecutors didn’t pursue it with adequate zeal.

Earlier this year, Cosby worked with anti-abortion groups, with the support of Secretary of State Kris Kobach, to change the citizen grand jury law to give more power to people who file the grand jury petitions, including letting the petition filer himself open the proceedings in the grand jury and let anybody who wants to apply to testify.

With the rules changed, Cosby’s now trying again to gather enough signatures to bring the sculpture before a new citizen grand jury, hoping that the new rules will produce a different outcome.

Cosby’s crusade is far from universally popular. Last year, Overland Park spent $35,000 defending the statue. And as the Kansas City Star’s editorial board pointed out last week, it’s far from the only nude sculpture publicly displayed in the area.

But Cosby claims that if allowed to call his own witnesses before a grand jury, he can present “a solid case on the harms to minors.” As part of his case, he’s been circulating this audio recording of a boy reacting to the sculpture with a  loud “Whoa!” and claiming that “a city agency putting in front of children an act, that if they mimicked, would be the illegal manufacture of child porn by children”

Cosby must gather about 4,000 signatures to convene the grand jury.
 

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