Civil Liberties Union Files Brief Supporting Brooklyn Museum In Controversy with Mayor Giuliani

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
October 8, 1999 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


NEW YORK–In a 17-page “friend-of-the-court” brief submitted in federal court today, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union said that Mayor Rudolph Giuliani “flagrantly violated” the First Amendment in seeking to punish the Brooklyn Museum of Art over a controversial exhibit.

At issue is the “Sensation” show featuring the work of young British artists from the contemporary art collection of British advertising executive Charles Saatchi. Mayor Giuliani has denounced the art, which includes a painting of a black Virgin Mary that incorporates elephant dung, as “sick stuff,” and is attempting to yank the museum’s funding and terminate its lease.

According to news reports, the Mayor has said he would also cut off city financing to any other publicly supported cultural institution that mounts an exhibit that he considers an attack on religion.

But, as the civil liberties union points out in legal papers, such retaliation runs counter to the principles of the First Amendment. Both sides in the battle will enter court this Friday to present their arguments in the high-profile controversy.

The civil liberties union filed its brief on behalf of itself and the Creative Coalition, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the National Coalition Against Censorship.

In its brief, the groups argue that “the record, in this case, demonstrates clearly that the Mayor has flagrantly violated this well-established First Amendment prohibition against viewpoint discrimination.”

According to the brief, “There are some publicly-funded institutions devoted to discourse and expression — such as public universities, libraries and museums — where the First Amendment functions to prevent the political branches of government from using the power of the purse to dictate the content of expression within such institutions In addition, First Amendment principles requiring procedural regularity render impermissible the Mayor’s action in this case.”

The case is The Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences v. The City of New York and Rudolph Giuliani. The ACLU’s friend-of-the-court brief is online at:

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The Latest in Free Speech

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About Free Speech

Free Speech issue image

Protecting free speech means protecting a free press, the democratic process, diversity of thought, and so much more. The ACLU has worked since 1920 to ensure that freedom of speech is protected for everyone.