Sex Worker Show at William and Mary


ACRU Staff


February 5, 2008

The facts for this outrage, but not the legal conclusions, come from an article published in the Newport News Daily Press on 28 January, 2008.

The President of the College of William and Mary gave students at the college permission to hold the Sex Workers’ Art Show on its Williamsburg campus, in February. He said he did so because students sponsoring the Sex Show “could not find” a place to hold the event off campus.

Therefore, he concluded that it would be “censorship” for the College not to allow the Sex Show on campus. A local Unitarian Church had considered sponsoring the Show, but was prevented by a local ordinance against “public nudity.”

The President made clear that he was throwing up his hands and taking no responsibility for what happens on his campus, saying, “My views and the views of others in the community about the worth or offensiveness of the program can provide no basis for censoring it.”

College President Gene R. Nichol issued a public statement in support of allowing this “art” program to appear on campus. His statement said, in part:

“The First Amendment and the defining traditions of openness that sustain universities are hallmarks of academic inquiry and freedom. It is the speech we disdain that often puts these principles to the test. The College of William & Mary will not knowingly and intentionally violate the constitutional rights of its students. Censorship has no place at a great university.”

President Nichols also sought safety in numbers, reciting that many student organizations had joined in seeking the sex show, and that it would appear on a number of other college campuses. Does anyone here hear an echo of a nine-year-old whining to his mother, “Billy’s mom lets him stick beans in his nose.”?

Odds are, President Nichols is too young, and too uneducated in the history of the First Amendment, to recall a famous case won by Melvin Belli in San Francisco forty years ago. Belli argued to a judge, and got the judge to agree on First Amendment grounds, that dancing topless was a form of “expression” and therefore protected speech. In accord with ACLU thinking, a City ordinance against dancing naked in public was struck down.

What followed was a week-long party of drinking and nudity, in and around the strip joints of North Beach. The flaw in the argument, and in the flag-burning case in the Supreme Court which the ACLU applauded, is that not every offensive action that every misguided American might want to take in public, is the same as speech.

By way of background, the College of William and Mary was the first institution to have a Professor of Law. He was the great George Wythe. His law students included Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason, and Patrick Henry. Presumably, all of those gentlemen are now spinning in their graves like tops, over what is happening at their College.

Source for original story on the Net:

President’s comments:,0,3258516.story

Story on the coming event:,0,3936712.story



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