Helms introduces ‘offensive’ material bill

By Jeff Steffen

A new bill introduced by Sen. Jesse Helms is drawing some heated opposition from faculty and students at NIU.

The bill will ban federal grants “to promote, disseminate or produce materials that depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual or excretory activities or organs.”

Norman Magden, an NIU art professor, said, “It sounds like a violation of the First Amendment. It doesn’t really allow free art expression.”

Magden said the main problem with the bill is defining what is or isn’t offensive. “Until it is easily defined, can any group describe what offensive art is and have everybody accept it?” he said.

“Though I don’t know Helms, he appears to champion causes that tend to challenge the First Amendment,” Magden said.

Joe Pinello, an NIU art major, agreed. “He is trying to be judge, jury and executioner. What is the next step? Will he tell me to shave my sideburns? He should be spending his time on more important things, like the atrocities going on in South Africa.”

Although the bill passed by a 68-28 vote, it still must survive a conference committee that has ended similar restrictions in the past.

“It seems to be a popular wave,” Magden said. “There is a lot of politics involved.”

Pinello said, “It’s really distressing to see someone try to destroy something I’ve devoted my life to.”

Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) and Sen. Alan J. Dixon (D-Ill.) both voted in favor of the ban.