People For the American Way Foundation President Michael Keegan has invited Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn to a public debate on arts censorship and religious liberty in light of the controversy over a new exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.
The Brooklyn Museum has come under fire from the Diocese and from some Republican elected officials for hosting “Hide/Seek,” the exhibit that was censored by Smithsonian officials after it opened at the National Portrait Gallery last year. Criticism from the Right has centered on A Fire in My Belly, a compilation of video works by the late artist David Wojnarowicz, which features a few seconds depicting ants crawling on a crucifix. That work was pulled from the Smithsonian show after an outcry from far right groups and congressional Republican leaders.
In a letter sent yesterday to Bishop DiMarzio, Keegan writes that a public forum on the Brooklyn Museum’s decision to show the “Hide/Seek” exhibit would be “an informative way to address our differences on the issues of religious tolerance and artistic freedom, and a public service to New Yorkers.” The letter is available here .
“Religious liberty and religious tolerance are core American values,” said Keegan. “But people can have different views of what it means to respect religion, especially when it comes to the arts. Our museums are full of art inspired by religious devotion, secular art and art that inspires questions about religious faith. All of these are important parts of our history and culture, and should not be open to censorship by politicians or religious organizations.
“Too often our so-called ‘culture war’ debates have been driven by prejudice and misunderstanding. I would look forward to meeting with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn face to face and engaging in an open an candid public discussion about the role of religious liberty and artistic freedom in our democracy. Art that provokes controversy should inspire conversation and dialogue, not censorship.”
Keegan discusses the issue further in a piece published today in the Huffington Post .