Archives of Rudolph W. Giuliani
MAYOR'S MESSAGE

Mayor's WINS Address
Sunday, September 26, 1999


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Freedom of Expression does not require Government Subsidization
by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani

Over the past several days there's been a great deal of discussion throughout our city about an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. I want to take this opportunity to state my position on this very clearly, in a way that can't be misunderstood.

People have a right in America -- and I fiercely defend this right -- to express any opinion that they want on the country, on religion, or on anything else. That's what the First Amendment is all about.

And there's no question that living in a free society requires us to tolerate the expression of views -- and in this case visual displays -- that we may find abhorrent. Tolerance is an essential component to the freedom and democracy we enjoy, and is protected by our Constitution.

But there's nothing, absolutely nothing in the Constitution that requires you and I to pay for expressions of opinion that desecrate important and significant national and religious symbols. The right to freedom of expression does not entail the right to public money. The spending of public money is a public trust and entails serious responsibility. Any institution that takes taxpayer dollars has a responsibility to be sensitive and respectful to the thoughts and deeply held beliefs of the people it's taking money from. Public taxpayer dollars should not be spent on the aggressive desecration of national or religious symbols of great significance and sensitivity to the very people who are being required to pay for this.

For example, in this exhibit -- which includes animals cut in half and preserved in formaldehyde -- there is a work called the "Holy Virgin Mary" which is a collage of images from pornographic magazines smeared with elephant feces. Although to many, including me, this is a disgusting exhibition, no one can suppress this expression of opinion. But by the same token, the people putting on this exhibition are not entitled to put their hands into the pockets of taxpayers and have them support this.

The Brooklyn Museum is a public museum. It's owned by the City of New York, which means by the people of the City of New York. And it should not be required to have to spend public money on something that desecrates religion or things of national significance. And this would be equally true if it was desecrating the Jewish religion, the Muslim religion, the Protestant religion, or any of the religions that are of great significance and importance to the people of our city and our country.

Moreover, in showing this exhibit, the Brooklyn Museum has to also close off part of their museum to children because they believe the exhibit would be horrible for children to see. But closing off any part of the museum violates the century-old lease between the museum and the City, which requires that the museum be open for public access. The lease states that the museum "…shall at all reasonable times be free, and open and accessible to the public and private schools of the city, and open and accessible to the general public on such terms of admission as the Mayor and Commissioner shall approve,…and also that if and when the museum or the libraries connected to it shall cease to be maintained according to the true intent and meaning of the act and the lease, then the lease is forfeited."

Indeed, this is the very risk that the people putting on this exhibit are taking. More than two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote that "To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is tyrannical." The distinction that many are overlooking here is not in any way interfering in freedom of expression. People have a right to express their views. But by the same token, people also have a right to make certain that their taxpayer dollars do not support serious desecrations of things that are important to them as a nation, or things that are important to them from the point of view of their religion.

This is Mayor Rudy Giuliani



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