Exhibit Protesters to Hand Out Barf Bags to Visitors

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Combining a political statement with a display of Christian charity, a group of New York demonstrators plan to hand out vomit bags Saturday to viewers of an art exhibit at a city museum which, even its sponsors concede, is so offensive it could make people sick.

The Brooklyn Museum of Art said it would go ahead with an exhibit that attacks Christianity, despite outrage by Christian and Orthodox Jewish groups and threats by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to evict the facility from its city-owned site and yank millions of dollars in public funds.

The controversy was sparked by "Sensation," a collection by British artists that includes a portrait of the Virgin Mary stained by elephant dung.

The museum has hired renowned First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams to defend its right to put on the display.

"Under the First Amendment, this museum may not be punished for offering to the public an entirely lawful exhibition," Abrams told reporters. "That's what this is all about."

However, a spokeswoman for the New York-based Catholic League, one of the chief sponsors of the protest, told CNSNews.com the First Amendment guaranteed the right of all Americans to free speech.

"If they invoke the First Amendment to blaspheme our Blessed Mother, we can use it to speak in her defense," Susan Fani, director of legal research with the Catholic League, told CNSNews.com.

Prompted by a museum warning that viewing the exhibit could cause anxiety and nausea, the Catholic League decided to distribute vomit bags to the first 500 attendees on Saturday.

The controversy entered the sphere of national politics this week when Hillary Clinton, Giuliani's likely Democratic rival for a New York U.S. Senate seat in 2000, joined a line of Democrats in denouncing the mayor's threat to cut city financing to the museum.

"Our feelings of being offended should not lead to the penalizing and shutting down of an entire museum," Clinton said.

Guiliani has said he finds the exhibit offensive, and city attorneys are waging a legal battle to keep the exhibit from opening.

The museum vowed to fight "in the interests of all public institutions - museums, universities and libraries - that are dedicated to the free exchange of ideas and information, and in the interests of the people they serve," according to a museum statement.

"The legal issue is murky, but even if the court rules against Mayor Giuliani's position, our point is, just because one has a legal right to do something does not mean they have the moral right to do it," Fani said.

"No one would think of displaying artwork denigrating black people or Jewish people or gays, so the question is, why is it that sacred symbols of Christianity are subject to attack?

"They can exhibit anything they want, but they're not entitled to public money to send messages of hate. If the exhibit was directed against any of the groups I mentioned, it would be considered hate speech," Fani said.

Fani said a recent poll showed 65 percent of New Yorkers are opposed to the exhibition.

"This shows you that even in New York, which is a very diverse city and tends to be very liberal, people are saying 'enough is enough.'

"When we look back on this somewhere down the road, we're going to see it as a very important battle in the culture war," Fani said.

Rep. Vito Fossella (R-NY) announced Wednesday he will organize a rally Saturday at noon in front of the museum to protest the exhibit.

"This exhibit is little more than public-funded bigotry," Fossella said in a statement to CNSNews.com. "The people of New York will have the opportunity to tell the museum they do not support having their tax dollars wasted on vulgar attempts that make a mockery of religion."

"The museum's director has admitted that the only reason he agreed to display this offensive exhibit was to shock the public - and in the process, sell a large number of tickets. If he believes that is what art lovers want to see, then I wonder whether he is equally as confident that he can sell enough tickets to fund his museum without one penny of the peoples' federal tax dollars," Fossella said.