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Dangers of censorship

One of the greatest things about living in this nation, and there are many, is that we are guaranteed freedom of expression. As citizens we have the right to free speech, as stated in the First Amendment of the Constitution, quoted here directly from the Bill of Rights:“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” That’s why a recent incident, at the Sharon Town Hall in neighboring Connecticut, was so troubling. (See article, front page.) This is what happened: Artist (and Millerton News political cartoonist) Dianne Engleke was scheduled to exhibit her show, Opinion Ink 2, at the Town Hall’s Galleria. She had hung half of her work when the next day she returned to discover 10 out of 24 drawings had been removed from the walls. She was then told it was due to the fact that a Town Hall committee found some of her work “offensive” and “inappropriate.” Rather than leave part of her work hanging and be victim to what she bluntly described as censorship, Engleke chose to remove her entire exhibit.And she was right. The decision to remove a portion of Engleke’s work (this after it had been approved for display) was censorship. First Selectman Robert Loucks tried to stay above the fray, but when asked if he thought taking down the drawings was censorship, he said he did not think so.“A number of people walked through and found some of the [drawings] offensive and then people who look after the building walked through and thought [the work] was not appropriate to be hung, and they requested some be taken down,” Loucks said. That, according to a slew of references, is censorship.Censorship breaches the First Amendment, and it’s a slippery slope to tread, whether trying to silence tens of thousands at an Occupy Wall Street protest or just one at a small-town art exhibit.According to the National Coalition Against Censorship’s (NCAC) Art Law Library, “the central tenet of the First Amendment is that ideas may not be suppressed because they are unpopular, offensive or even hateful. Government actions restricting or penalizing certain kinds of [expression] because of hostility to the ideas expressed are considered to constitute viewpoint-discrimination and are generally impermissible.” It’s important as we move through life that we remain open to ideas that may seem foreign or unfamiliar, perhaps even uncomfortable. That is how we learn, how we share information, how we expand our horizons. If people were only exposed to ideas and concepts they were already familiar with, imagine what society would have lost out on — the exploration, the science, the art and literature, the wonder, the curiosity and, of course, the conversation. Censorship deprives everyone of that and more; it is a terrible disservice to the community and stands against everything this nation stands for. Here’s to artist Engleke, for standing up to her censors, for saying, “Show it all or show nothing.” Let’s hope others who object to such actions also speak out; they can start by calling the Sharon Town Hall and letting their feelings be known. Lodging such protests has become crucial in today’s modern society, because once censorship begins, there’s no telling where it will end.

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