In Victory for Free Expression, NYCLU and Restaurateur Send Uncensored Postcards Through U.S. Postal Service

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
May 15, 2007 12:00 am

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Josephine Baker Image Deemed Too Racy By Post Office, But First Amendment Prevailed

NEW YORK – The New York Civil Liberties Union joined renowned restaurateur Jean-Claude Baker on Tuesday to give a triumphant send-off to a batch of postcards that have been the subject of a free speech battle between Baker and the United States Postal Service.

“This is a great day for free speech and for the legacy of Josephine Baker,” Jean-Claude Baker said. “We have struck a blow against censorship, which would have prevented us from sharing this exquisite image of Maman in all her glory.”

Jean-Claude Baker’s 21-year-old restaurant on 42nd Street, Chez Josephine, is named after Josephine Baker, renowned chanteuse and Folies Bergère star, who took in the restaurateur when he was a boy living alone in Paris after World War II. Every year Jean-Claude Baker sends out a postcard with an image of Josephine Baker to patrons of the restaurant. But when Baker visited two different post offices to try to send out this year’s card – which features a watercolor by Henry Fournier depicting Josephine Baker dancing unclad from the waist up – he was turned away by postal clerks on the basis that the card was “pornographic advertising.”

After Jean-Claude Baker created two different censored versions of the image – the first, the post office said, was still too explicit – the NYCLU intervened, informing the Postal Service that under the Postal Code and the First Amendment it must allow Baker to send the uncensored cards. The Postal Service acknowledged its mistake and apologized to Baker.

“Censorship based on content has a devastating effect on the free expression that is at the heart of a free society,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director. “We’re pleased that the postal service will allow Josephine, and others like her, to travel through the mail regardless of what she is or is not wearing.”

On Tuesday Baker dropped the cards at the post office before joining the NYCLU and restaurant patrons for a press conference at Chez Josephine celebrating his victory.

Click here to read the NYCLU’s letter to the US Postal Service (PDF).

Click here to view the relevant USPS regulation. Note: scroll down to Regulation 601-12.11.

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