Appeals Court Says Show Must Go On

Ruling permits "Corpus Christi" performance in Indiana as scheduled

People For the American Way Foundation applauds a federal appeals court decision allowing a student production of the play "Corpus Christi" to open on Friday, August 10, as scheduled. Terrance McNally’s "Corpus Christi," which has been the target of censorship efforts since it premiered in New York three years ago, will open on the Fort Wayne campus of Indiana University-Purdue University on time now that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a legal attempt by the play’s detractors to block the production.

PFAWF and other organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, urging the court to uphold the principles of academic freedom, the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech, and a proper reading of church-state separation law. The court agreed by ruling not to overturn a lower court decision denying a preliminary injunction, which is a win for the university, the defendant in the case.

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate John Price and several state politicians have led the plaintiffs’ charge that the work is an attack on Christianity, and tried to censor the play based on a novel reading of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Strongly rejecting their claims, a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit ruled 2-1 in favor of IPFW, stating:

The contention that the First Amendment forbids a state university to provide a venue for the expression of views antagonistic to conventional Christian beliefs is absurd. It would imply that teachers in state universities could not teach important works by Voltaire, Hobbes, Hume, Darwin, Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Yeats, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, John Dewey, and countless other staples of Western culture.

Ralph G. Neas, president of PFAWF, said, "The 7th Circuit’s ruling is a triumph for the university and its students, theater-goers, and all Americans who cherish their right to see and hear diverse ideas. The court wisely refused to block the production, recognizing that to do so would restrict academic freedom and freedom of speech. While we defend the right of the play’s critics to protest peacefully against it, we disagree that threatening the university’s funding or censoring the play is an appropriate demonstration against the play. One way for these would-be censors to voice their opposition is to simply not buy a ticket."

Jan Czarnik, Midwest regional director of PFAWF, said that, had the court adopted the plaintiffs’ reading of church-state separation law, state-run universities could become true "religion-free zones." "Public schools and their students would be limited in their ability to explore religion and religious ideas – even conventional Christian beliefs," said Czarnik. "For example, a state university could not show ‘The Ten Commandments’ with Charlton Heston as part of a film series under the plaintiffs’ interpretation of the Establishment Clause."

Jan Czarnik will attend Friday night’s opening performance, and will be available for interviews. She may be contacted at her office at 312/726-2179 or on her mobile telephone at 773/401-0771.

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