While a national debate regarding religious satire and the First Amendment remains ongoing, a group of free speech advocates and artists hoped to become a part of the discussion next month.
Despite months of planning, they were informed Tuesday their series of short plays addressing censorship of arts and culture was canceled by a New York venue over concerns one of the acts might be offensive to Muslims.
According to The New York Times, the “Playwrights for a Cause” event was set to feature four new short plays about censorship of the arts on June 14 at the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture in Greenwich Village.
While the event was intended to combat censorship, William Spencer Reilly, the executive director of the non-sectarian venue, essentially censored it over an act regarding Mohammed, which is sexual in nature.
The title in question: Mohammed Gets a Boner.
The act is a monologue by Neil LaBute, a critically acclaimed screenwriter, filmmaker and playwright, and is at odds with the Sheen Center’s mission statement, which states the venue hopes to serve both Catholic and non-Catholic audiences.
“When an artistic project maligns any faith group, that project clearly falls outside of our mission to highlight the good, the true, and the beautiful as they have been expressed throughout the ages,” Reilly told the Times.
Reilly reportedly green-lit the event in February, but told the paper he had only become aware of the title of the play earlier this week, after a staff member noticed it online.
He then read the script and decided to cancel the event altogether for what he called a “clear offense to Muslims.”
LaBute’s one-person act was written specifically for the event and is about an actor asked to perform in an offensive satire. A description reads: “The prophet ‘Mohammed’ stands on a barren stage, recalling the first time he made love to a white woman. Is this reality or a theatrical convention? Where do the lines between ‘satire’ and ‘censorship’ intersect or is nothing sacred when it comes to the theater?”
After the cancelation, LaBute pointed out the hypocritical nature of scrapping an event meant to shed light on censorship, and pointed out the Sheen Center’s website includes the phrase “for thought and culture.”
“Both in life and in the arts, this is not a time to hide or be afraid; recent events have begged for artists and citizens to stand and be counted,” he said.
Earlier this month is Garland, Texas, two gunmen were killed by a police officer when they opened fire at a Mohammed art drawing contest. The event follows similar others where violence has been used against non-Muslims practicing freedom of expression in their depictions of Mohammed.
In January, 12 employees of the French satire publication Charlie Hebdo in Paris were killed by Islamic gunmen after the magazine published images of Mohammed.