Protest Against Photographer Jock Sturges

In an effort to halt bookstores from selling the works of internationally acclaimed photographer Jock Sturges, a coalition of fundamentalist Christian organizations are rallying nationwide, claiming his books contain child pornography."If you want to call that art, you're crazy," said Reverend Flip Benham, the national director of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. "You don't need to make sexual toys out of our children."In recent weeks protesters -- led by Benham, as well as Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Randall Terry, the former leader of Operation Rescue -- have destroyed copies of Sturges' books at stores in New York City, Dallas, Denver, Omaha, Kansas City, Salem and Beaverton, Ore.Ironically, the attacks on Sturges come during Banned Books Week, observed nationally September 20-27. Famed for his nude photos, which include depictions of minors, Sturges' work has been widely published and is included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.Oren Teicher, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, does not claim to be a supporter of Sturges', but nonetheless voiced concern over the protesters and their tactics. "The First Amendment includes the right to protest and dissent, but what it doesn't do is give people right to deny other Americans their right to decide for themselves what they will see, read and hear."The National Campaign for Free Expression, an organization that promotes artistic freedom, has also condemned the campaign as "a crime against freedom and democracy."At a Borders Books & Music store in Dallas, for instance, a group of 15 protesters called for attention. "They were pretty loud and obnoxious at one point," said store employee Christopher Soden. "They were pushing the pages in people's faces and calling it kiddie porn."Among the four members of the group who were arrested, Rev. Benham cited an example of a one picture he found offensive among Sturges' collection: "There's a picture of a young girl on a tricycle, with a very provocative look with her genitals absolutely and totally exposed. It would break your heart to see it."We're not book burners, " he added. "We're not talking about 'Catcher In The Rye.' here. We're talking about naked kids -- who would want to look at these pictures?"Focus on the Family is calling for criminal charges, stating that the sale of Sturges' works "clearly involves the exploitation of children and should be prosecuted as illegal child pornography."Benham agreed, saying Operation Rescue is also pushing for legal action against Sturges, but will not wait for a legal ruling determining whether or not the photographs of nude children are pornographic. "The wheels of justice grind slowly," he said. "So we must disarm the weapon ourselves."As one of the sponsors of Banned Books Week, Judith Krug, the director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom said the protesters actions in ripping up books amounts to illegal censorship.Joan E. Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, said the notion that Sturges photos of nude children are pornographic is "completely misguided.""The naked form has been studied by artists and depicted with awe and wonder throughout time." she said. "Child pornography is a serious problem, nudity is not."

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