April 20, 1999 is a tragic day that will live in infamy in our nation's history. It is the day that 13 lives were taken in the Columbine High School shootings. We at ROC do not in any way wish to downplay the significance and horror of this tragedy. Terrible events such as this incident naturally will lead all of us to attempt to answer the questions "Why did this happen?" and "How can we prevent this from happening again?". When the killers in such an incident take their own lives as well, they also take the answers to those questions with them to their graves leaving everyone to guess with their own answers.
Unfortunately there are many in our society that think knee-jerk, ill-advised, politically self-serving, and/or unconstitutional solutions are the way to prevent horrific moments in history from repeating themselves. Since the Columbine shootings, we have seen a wave of repression sweep through our nation's schools in the form of suspensions or punishments seeking to squelch any behavior or expression deviating from prescribed norms under the false hope that such policies will make this world a safer place. For that reason, April 20, 1999 was not only tragic for the victims and their families, but also for the First Amendment rights of students across the country that are paying the price everyday in seeing those rights taken away by the policy makers that are seeking to capitalize on this tragedy to further their personal agenda of censorship in their desire to force us all to embrace their chosen ideology.
Flip forward the calender to May 2001, and we continue to see such irrational logic being used in the city of Denver, Colorado, where religious zealots calling themselves Citizens for Peace and Respect (web address: http://www.nomanson.org), led by local Pastor Jason Janz, are seeking the cancellation of Marilyn Manson's appearance as part of the OzzFest 2001 tour on June 21st in their city. Their reasoning basically boils down to 1) Marilyn Manson sings lyrics they find offensive or troubling, and 2) the Columbine tragedy happened in the Denver area, so 3) Marilyn Manson shouldn't perform there. Nevermind that it was never factually established that the perpetrators of the murders at Columbine High School were even fans of Marilyn Manson (as was erroneously bludgeoned into the public mindset by a mass-media all too eager to play the scapegoating game), and they were instead fans of bands such as KMFDM and Rammstein. Nevermind that even if these killers were Marilyn Manson fans, that it still would not in any way mean that he bears any level of responsibility for their deplorable actions, lest the concept of personal responsibility for one's actions be tossed out the window. The Citizens for Peace and Respect organization will not let facts get in the way of their moral indignation though, so Marilyn Manson, with his reputation as Public Enemy #1 of the religious right, has once again been bestowed the honor of being the target of the censors wrath.
As misguided as the opinions of this religious group are, we ar ROC do not in any way seek to stifle their ability to express those opinions with our opposition to them. We do not begrudge the right of this organization to peaceably protest the appearance of Marilyn Manson, as we freely admit that they are well within their First Amendment rights to do so. But we do draw the line at any governmental attempts to seek a cancellation of the show or the appearance of any particular artist. As a result of the efforts of this group, Colorado Governor Bill Owens and Congressman Tom Tancredo have also spoken out to urge the cancellation of Marilyn Manson's appearance. So the situation has reached a level where these far right-wing government officials are involved, at least in this capacity. As long as they are merely protesting and voicing their personal opinions, that is fine, but history shows that these protests quickly turn into governmental efforts to cancel shows when elected officials start getting involved. That is why we have chosen to act.
In response to the threat posed by this organization's efforts and the power of their allies among the elected officials of Colorado, Rock Out Censorship is working through local volunteers to conduct a petition drive with the intent of showing that the city of Denver does not speak with one voice in opposition to the appearance of Marilyn Manson in their city, and that there are a considerable number of citizens in the Denver area that place the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as having greater importance than any attempt at a misguided, knee-jerk solution to school violence. In addition to organizing this petition campaign ourselves, ROC is also working closely with and helping to advise a local free speech organization that has formed as a result of this situation called Citizens for the Protection of the Right to Free Speech (website at: http://www.supportmanson.homestead.com). This organization has been spearheading the campaign in the area to counter the efforts of Citizens for Peace and Respect. They are working on staging a rally in support of the First Amendment on the steps of the State Capitol Building in Denver on June 20th (the day before Marilyn Manson's scheduled appearance).
We are deeply concerned by statements from the Director of Citizens for Peace and Respect, Jason Janz, in his calling on Denver Police to make sure to enforce all obscenity laws with regard to Marilyn Manson's performance. "I'm not asking for government intervention, but I am asking the Denver police to do their jobs," he said. "That means this: If someone commits illegal behavior at OzzFest, that they will do their jobs and not look the other way. They will stand up and arrest them," Janz continued. We at ROC do not expect law enforcement to turn the other cheek to truly illegal behavior or incidents, but the obvious (to us at least) implication made by this statement is that Janz would like to see his own personal definition of indecent or offensive material substituted for the Supreme Court definition of obscenity in seeking the arrest of Marilyn Manson if/when his performance crosses a certain line.
The Supreme Court's definition of obscenity (the Miller test from the 1973 Miller v. California case) is that the material in question 1) must appeal to the prurient interest of the average person 2) must describe sexual conduct in a way that is "patently offensive" to community standards and 3) when taken as a whole, it "must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." Clearly Marilyn Manson's songs and stage performance do not meet this three pronged definition of obscenity. What Janz wants is for police to substitute his and/or their personal opinions of what is "indecent Material" and use that in place of the legal requirement that the material reach the point of obscenity as defined by the Supreme Court. I would point out the legal definition of obscenity to Janz and to all authorities and show that Marilyn Manson does not remotely meet this criteria. Marilyn Manson's work is clearly seriously artistic in nature, and often seriously political in nature, so it definitely does not meet the third prong of this criteria to meet the court definition of obscenity. Since very little of his material is really of a prurient nature, we would seriously doubt that the threshold for the first prong would be met. Since tens of thousands of Denver area fans will be in attendance at the event, it's very much debatable whether or not Marilyn Manson even offends community standards in any way at all, given that the vast majority of the fans in attendance will not be remotely offended. ALL THREE PRONGS must be met in order for something to be declared legally obscene and it would seem to us that any would be censors of Marilyn Manson would have a very difficult time proving even one prong of the Miller litmus test for obscenity.
In seeking any arrest of Marilyn Manson for anything he does that does not cross the Miller test line, they absolutely do not have court precednet to support this stance. Janz is offended by Marilyn Manson, Janz feels that Marilyn Manson is obscene, but his opinion is not supported by law or by previous court rulings, and therefore the police should not act on his behalf in arresting Marilyn Manson. We at ROC would be very much shocked if such virtuous and morally superior people as our good friends in Janz's Citizens for Peace and Respect would wish to see the Denver Police Force thumb their nose at the rule of law in such a reckless manner. So with this in mind, we certainly agree with Pastor Janz in the sincere hope that the police at the 2001 OzzFest will show respect for the rule of law by making sure they do not violate the United States Constitution that they are sworn to uphold.
In seeking to scapegoat the entertainment industry for all of society's ills, not only do the censors wrongly point the finger of blame at individuals such as Marilyn Manson that are only reflecting the reality they see in society, but they also miss whatever chance they have of finding legitimate solutions to some of the problems. Perhaps if people like Mr. Janz would stop seeking to arrest, suspend or punish people for choosing to express themselves in ways that differ from HIS ideal vision for everyone, maybe we could get along just fine and people that are presently persecuted on a daily basis for the "crime" of being different might not feel the inclination to snap mentally or lash out in a violent manner as the two killers at Columbine High School did on that fateful April 20, 1999 day.