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Kansas officials demand University of Kansas remove American flag artwork

UPDATE, 9:34pm EST: Creative Time provided FIRE the following statement:

Art has a responsibility to drive hard conversations. Pledges of Allegiance was begun to generate dialogue and bring attention to the pressing issues of the day. The right to freedom of speech is one of our nation's most dearly held values. It is also under attack. We are proud to stand by artists who express themselves. Today’s events illustrate the same divisions in our country that the series has confronted head-on.

UPDATE, 5:25pm EST: The University of Kansas has agreed to remove the flag, according to a report from the Lawrence Journal-World, citing Gov. Jeff Colyer’s spokesperson.

A controversy is brewing over a flag being flown at the University of Kansas as part of a nationwide public art series. The series, called “Pledges of Allegiance,” is a project of the New York-based arts nonprofit Creative Time, displaying a rotation of flags addressing a variety of themes and topics by artists from around the world. While the series consists of 16 artworks, the ire is focused on one in particular: “Untitled (Flag 2)” by artist Josephine Meckseper. Meckseper describes the work as “a collage of an American flag and one of my dripped paintings which resembles the contours of the United States.”

Today, Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach demanded KU remove the artwork.

KU must not do so. Instead, it should take a strong stand for the First Amendment. By doing so, KU would stand apart from the numerous institutions that have censored artistic expression—a troubling trend documented in our just-released report, “One Man’s Vulgarity,” drawn from FIRE’s many years fighting against art censorship on campus.

The First Amendment doesn’t exist to protect politically popular speech. It exists to protect the speech likeliest to stir controversy, and it is a crucial check against the power of the state to silence dissenting voices.

The Supreme Court of the United States has also ruled on expression involving the American Flag. In 1989’s Texas v. Johnson, the Court famously struck down a Texas statute prohibiting flag desecration on First Amendment grounds. The Court noted: “We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.” Instead, the Court observed that its holding served as “a reaffirmation of the principles of freedom and inclusiveness that the flag best reflects, and of the conviction that our toleration of criticism . . . is a sign and source of our strength.”

We hope those in Kansas demanding censorship at KU will back off their demands against the university. FIRE will be watching closely.

Ask the University of Kansas to restore the artwork

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