Column: Obscenity and decency – it can be easy to confuse one for the other

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By Jon Parton

Are we living in the 1950s? I think some Kansans still are.

Earlier this year the American Family Association of Kansas and Missouri (AFA) led a petition drive to have a bronze sculpture removed from the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, claiming it violated Kansas obscenity laws. The sculpture, entitled “Accept or Reject,” depicts a headless woman with an exposed chest aiming a camera at herself.

Overland Park officials refused to remove the statue, leading the American Family Association to pursue the matter in court. After a lengthy legal battle, the issue has finally been decided. Did I say lengthy? It took a grand jury less than a day to determine the sculpture did not violate any laws.

According to a written statement made by the jury: “We sat for one day and viewed the photographs of the statue. We reviewed the Kansas law and found that the sculpture in question did not meet the legal definition of obscenity.”

So the city wasted time and taxpayer money in order to prove something reasonable people already know. The human body is not obscene. What is obscene is an organization like the AFA trying to attach personal connotation to artwork. The AFA claimed the sculpture promoted “sexting” and was inappropriate for children. The woman is depicted holding a digital camera, not a cell phone, and is aimed at where her head would be.

You should question yourself, not the artwork, if you can’t view the human form without embarrassment or shame. For those who question the location of the artwork, have you ever heard of the Country Club Plaza? Nude sculptures have been a part of the Kansas City public landscape for more than 50 years. How many children have been traumatized by the beautiful fountains?

The concept of decency is rooted in what is ideally best for humanity. What decency is there in attacking the freedom of expression? It is inherently indecent to force the rest of society to conform to easily offended sensibilities and a narrow view of the world.

Before 9/11, Afghanistan’s Taliban government destroyed most of the ancient Buddhist statues in that country, some of which were centuries old. That artwork will never again be seen except in photographs. More importantly, what is the difference between what the Taliban did and what the AFA tried to do? Both sought to remove artwork deemed offensive for religious reasons. Why not burn a few books while we’re at it?

As Americans, we should try to err on the side of freedom. The First Amendment carries with it a lot of benefits. By limiting that freedom, we only do harm to ourselves. That, my friends, is true obscenity.

Contact Jon Parton, managing editor, at jparton@jccc.edu.

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