From time to time, I range away from Creative Infrastructure’s focus on “thoughts and ideas about infrastructure for the arts” to other topics about which I am passionate, and this is one of those times — but not really. The First Amendment to the Constitution states, “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.” This is widely understood to mean that the state (I mean this in the sense of organized political community) cannot infringe on people’s right to speak or to peaceably gather together. It’s not until the second amendment that we get to “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” These rights came into conflict this week when Utah State University cancelled a public talk by cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian, who critiques the gaming industry through a feminist lens. As I understand it, credible threats of a “bloody massacre” led Ms. Sarkeesian to request that no guns be brought into the venue but Utah’s open carry laws “the campus police could not prevent people with weapons from entering her talk.”
WHEN DID WE START PRIVILEGING GUN RIGHTS OVER FREE SPEECH RIGHTS AND THE RIGHT TO PEACEABLY ASSEMBLE???
Somehow, I don’t think this is what the framers had in mind when they crafted the Bill of Rights. On the contrary, we need to consider that a domestic terrorist threat has shut down the ability of a woman to speak in a peaceful assembly. This is when the state is obligated to step in to protect people.
What does this mean for the arts? Imagine if a theatre in Utah or another open carry state with similar ALEC-crafted legislation started to receive threats over their programming? Would Pioneer Theatre have to cancel a production of, for example, Angels in America, if there was a threat of violence against the performers and audience? Or, should a theatre or any other organization have the freedom to keep out guns so that the right to speech and assembly are not threatened by terrorist violence? The First Amendment is the most important arts policy we have. It needs protecting.
(image of The Bill of Rights placed in the public domain by the National Archives and Records Administration)