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Supreme Court: Decency can be considered in federal arts grants

WASHINGTON (BP)–A Supreme Court ruling that allows the government to deny funding to art projects considered indecent is a “major victory for common decency,” said a prominent pro-family legal organization.
“This is a major victory for common decency at a time when some groups argue that moral standards are irrelevant,” said the chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, Jay Sekulow, reacting to the Supreme Court’s 8-1 decision that the National Endowment for the Arts can weigh decency along with artistic merit in awarding grants to artists.
The law ”neither inherently interferes with First Amendment rights nor violates constitutional vagueness principles,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in the court’s June 25 majority opinion, according to the Associated Press.
”So long as legislation does not infringe on other constitutionally protected rights, Congress has wide latitude to set spending priorities,” she wrote. ”Congress may selectively fund a program to encourage certain activities it believes to be in the public interest.”
The court received the case on appeal after lower courts struck down decency standards established by Congress in 1990 following the public outcry over the NEA’s role in funding such works as the homoerotic images of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano’s photograph of a crucifix immersed in urine, the AP recounted.
In NEA v. Finley, four artists whose performances dealt with sexual themes challenged Congress’ enactment of directives to the NEA chairman designed to ensure “artistic excellence and artistic merit are the criteria by which applications are judged, taking into consideration general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public.”
The suit was filed after then-NEA chairman John Frohnmayer, under congressional pressure, vetoed grants to Karen Finley and three others in June 1990. Finley, best known for an act in which she smears chocolate on her nude upper body, and the openly homosexual artists — Holly Hughes, Tim Miller and John Fleck — had sought grants for performances that were to include nudity, homosexuality and urination.
David Cole, a Georgetown law professor representing the artists who challenged the law, said the justices were ”woefully wrong in closing their eyes to the real-world chilling effect that this kind of language has to the arts.” Yet he noted O’Connor’s statement said the law does not impose a categorical requirement but is only “advisory language.” In the ruling, he said the justice “admonishes the NEA merely to take ‘decency and respect’ into consideration,” the AP reported.
In petitioning the Supreme Court to reinstate the law, the Clinton administration argued the government can use ”highly selective” funding rules to decide which arts projects most deserve taxpayers’ support, AP said.
The Clinton administration’s decision in 1993 to appeal the federal court’s decision stunned artists and free-speech advocates.
Speaking after the oral arguments before the high court in March this year, Hughes told reporters the Supreme Court appeal of the case by the Justice Department was evidence of “another betrayal by Bill Clinton of a community that supported him.”
O’Connor was joined Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
Justice David H. Souter dissented, saying the law was ”substantially overbroad and carries with it a significant power to chill artistic production and display.”
In another key decision June 25, the court ruled 5-4 that HIV-infected people are protected by a federal ban on discrimination against the disabled even if they have no AIDS symptoms.
The court’s ruling, in Bragdon v. Abbott, involved whether a Maine dentist violated the Americans With Disabilities Act when he refused to fill an HIV-infected woman’s tooth in his office in 1994. On her patient information form, the woman had indicated she was HIV-positive but had no AIDS symptoms. The woman sued after the dentist found a cavity near her gum line and told her that, under his policy, he would not fill the cavity in his office, but at a hospital where she would have to pay the additional cost.
The Associated Press reported AIDS Action, a network of organizations providing health care and services to AIDS patients, reacted to the decision stating, ”The Supreme Court today handed people with HIV their greatest legal victory since the beginning of the epidemic.”
The Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law by President Bush in 1990 to protect the disabled against discrimination in jobs, housing and public accommodations if they have a physical or mental disability which ”substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Among the law’s most visible results: wheelchair ramps at countless public places.
Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the court’s opinion and was joined by Associate Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. Dissenting in part were Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Sandra Day O’Connor.
The ruling, though reaching much the same conclusion as lower courts, set aside a lower court decision, with Kennedy specifying, ”HIV infection satisfies the statutory and regulatory definition of a physical impairment during every stage of the disease.”
According to the Associated Press, the justices said the dentist, in deciding how to treat the HIV-infected woman, ”had the duty to assess the risk of infection based on the objective, scientific information available to him and others in his profession,” Kennedy wrote, and, in deciding whether a health-care provider has violated the disability-protection law, ”courts should assess the objective reasonableness of the views of health care professionals without deferring to their individual judgments.” Kennedy added, ”We do not foreclose the possibility that the Court of Appeals may reach the same conclusion it did earlier.” –30– Tom Strode contributed to this story. 6/25/98 ‘Just what doctor ordered’ offered low-income residents By Stella Anderson
MIAMI (BP)–Since opening its doors nearly two years ago, the Good News Care Center in South Dade County has become “just what the doctor ordered” for nearly 2,000 low-income residents.
Trapped between their ineligibility for government health-care assistance and the high cost of medical insurance, the residents — many of whom are Mexican migrant workers — had nowhere to turn for health care until they heard the good news.
“Many times, the lower-income community falls through the cracks of the health-care system,” said Mike Daily, associate director of church and community ministries for Miami Baptist Association, who conceived and implemented the ministry. “They often work and have jobs but are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare and are unable financially to purchase health care. “But with the care center’s assistance, we are able to help those who qualify,” Daily said.
Located adjacent to First Baptist Church of Florida City, the Melissa Altman Good News Care Center offers free medical, diagnostic and educational services for uninsured adults, children and teens, regardless of race, occupation, national origin or immigration status.
Services offered include general check-ups, blood pressure checks, diabetes testing, foot care, immunizations, specialized care for women, nutrition counseling, and treatment of childhood ailments and heart/lung/stomach and skin ailments. Additional services are provided through the center’s affiliation with a pool of area doctors and Baptist Health Systems of South Florida.
The center is staffed by licensed physicians and other qualified health-care professionals, most of whom volunteer their time.
“This partnership should be a model for collaboration,” Daily said. “The things we have accomplished together in such harmony has been beyond my wildest dreams.”
The care center has been an answer to prayer for Marvin Holloway, a Venezuelan immigrant who arrived at the clinic incoherent and complaining of severe headaches and slurred speech. He had suffered from the symptoms for many months but did not have medical insurance.
“No one would even take a look at him because he had no insurance,” Daily said. “Without the Good News Care Center, he was likely a dead man.”
Nilda Soto, a full-time Good News Care Center physician, discovered a large mass behind Holloway’s eyes and referred him to Baptist Medical Center, where he later was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
As a referral from the center, Holloway was able to have surgery to remove the tumor and now is on a “remarkable road to recovery,” Daily said.
Such severe medical needs are not an uncommon sight at the clinic.
“But not one qualifying patient has passed through our doors that their medical needs have not been satisfied,” Daily said.
Several community and government agencies have taken notice of the center’s program. In recent months, the Dade County legislative delegation awarded GNCC a certificate of appreciation for contributions to the community and state of Florida. U.S. Congress member Carrie Meek nominated GNCC for the President’s Service Award. GNCC received the State of Florida Department of Health 1997 Appreciation Award, its highest honor bestowed for service and commitment to the community.
Both the medical and civic communities’ positive and generous response has been “very significant in the care center’s success,” said Brenda Forlines, director of the Florida Baptist Convention’s church and community ministries department. “So often, we as the church believe we must do it all on our own, but God puts other resources and persons in our paths to offer assistance.”
A host of Florida Baptist church groups have befriended the center. First Baptist Church, Merritt Island, recently donated a truckload of supplies including clothes, health-care packages and other inventory items. These kinds of donations arrive regularly from the central Florida church.
Each week, several Miami-area singles groups join Daily in making home visits to patients of the care center. The volunteers assist patients in understanding their medicines and treatments, as well as providing assistance with food. They also distribute New Testaments, share the gospel and encourage patients to attend church.
“The Lord is so permeated in this work and has made himself known, it is amazing,” Daily said. “It completely takes my breath away.”
For the future, GNCC organizers want to expand services to include AIDS testing, domestic violence prevention, crisis planning, substance abuse counseling, increased pediatric care and a permanent and larger facility.
“Right now we can’t see the end of the tunnel, but we know the Lord has provided and continues to provide for the clinic,” Daily said. “We have a lot of faith that big things are going to happen.”

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