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Joan E. Bertin
Executive Director
NCAC PARTICIPATING
ORGANIZATIONS
Actors Equity Association
American Association of
School Administrators
American Association of
University Professors
American Association of
University Women
American Booksellers Foundation
for Free Expression
American Civil Liberties Union
American Ethical Union
American Federation of Teachers
American Jewish Committee
American Library Association
American Literary Translators
Association
American Orthopsychiatric Association
American Society of Journalists
& Authors
Americans United for Separation of
Church & State
Association of American Publishers
Authors Guild
Catholics for Choice
Childrens Literature Association
College Art Association
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
The Creative Coalition
Directors Guild of America
Dramatists Guild of America
Dramatists Legal Defense Fund
Educational Book & Media Association
First Amendment Lawyers Association
International Reading Association
Lambda Legal
Modern Language Association
National Center for Science Education
National Communication Association
National Council for the Social Studies
National Council of Churches
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of Teachers of English
National Education Association
National Youth Rights Association
The Newspaper Guild/CWA
PEN American Center
People For the American Way
Planned Parenthood Federation
of America
Project Censored
SAG-AFTRA
Sexuality Information & Education
Council of the U.S.
Society of Childrens Book Writers
& Illustrators
Student Press Law Center
Union for Reform Judaism
Union of Democratic Intellectuals
Unitarian Universalist Association
United Church of Christ
Office of Communication
United Methodist Church
United Methodist Communications
Womens American ORT
Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance
Writers Guild of America, East
Writers Guild of America, West
September 19, 2014
Dear Dr. Stamm and Members of the Board,
As national organizations committed to artistic and intellectual freedom, we are deeply
troubled by South Williamsport Junior-Senior High School's cancellation of the
scheduled March 2015 production of Monty Pythons Spamalot due to concerns about
some content in the play. We urge the South Williamsport School District Board to
reverse this decision and show its respect for young peoples intellectual freedom and its
commitment to an educational process inclusive of diverse ideas and viewpoints.
We understand that play was cancelled after the principal, who had purchased
Spamalots licensing rights earlier in the year, expressed concerns over its homosexual
themes. The themes in question refer to a storyline, tangential to the main plot, that
features a homosexual character who gets married to another man. To our knowledge,
the principal also complained that the plays content might be a problem for students
who oppose homosexuality and feel that performing in such a play or attending a
performance would violate their personal beliefs.
There is no question about the plays educational and artistic merit. The original
production amassed a vocal critical following, resulting in the play receiving 14 Tony
Award nominations and winning three. Crafted in the likeness of other Monty Python
sketches, Spamalot parodies the legend of King Arthur in ways that are humorous, lively,
and spirited. It has been performed countless times in high schools throughout the
country and is to be performed in several Pennsylvania schools in the coming year:
Norwin Senior High School in Irwin, Downingtown East High School in Exton, and La
Salle College High School in Glenside. School sponsorship of a celebrated theatrical
production does not constitute endorsement of its content or ideas, and no student is
required to accept any ostensible message in it, any more than exposure to paintings
of Christian saints requires the viewer to believe in a particular religious doctrine.
Professed concerns about the plays homosexual themes do not justify its cancellation.
Indeed, our constitutional system is designed to prevent the government from
promoting or preferring any viewpoint over others. It is axiomatic that government
BY ELECTRONIC MAIL
Superintendent Dr. Mark Stamm
South Williamsport Area School District Office
515 West Central Avenue
South Williamsport, PA 17702
officials, including public school officials, may not inhibit the expression of ideas and opinions simply because
they dislike or disapprove of them. If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that
the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself
offensive or disagreeable. Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 414 (1989). [A]bove all else, the First Amendment
means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter,
or its content. Police Dept of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U.S. 92, 95 (1972) Any attempt to eliminate everything
that is objectionable...will leave public schools in shreds. Nothing but educational confusion and a discrediting
of the public school system can result... McCollum v. Board of Educ. 332 U.S. 203 (1948) (Jackson, J.
concurring)
Not only does the decision to cancel the play raise serious constitutional concerns, but it also sends a message
of intolerance to the entire community that could, in addition, intimidate homosexual students, undermine
their education, and promote a discriminatory environment in school.
Every community is home to a diversity of opinions on moral, religious, and sexual questions. No matter how
strong the views of some members of the community may be, though, they have no right to impose their views
on others, or expect the public schools to reflect their beliefs at the expense of others. Cancelling Spamalot
impermissibly privileges the beliefs of some individuals over others and is likely to make the district
susceptible to many other complaints demanding the cancellation of plays and removal of books.
In our experience, controversies of this kind are best handled by enriching rather than restricting the
conversation surrounding shared community values. A similar incident around Rent in Trumbull High School
in Connecticut earlier this year cost the school much negative publicity on the national level before the school
finally decided to go ahead with the production and add post-show conversations. The March production was
very successful.
We urge Dr. Stamm and members of the school board to encourage student creativity and to teach students the
skills to discuss opposing views respectfully. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of further
assistance.
Sincerely,
Svetlana Mintcheva, Director of Programs
National Coalition Against Censorship
Chris Finan, President
American Booksellers Foundation For Free Expression
Susanna Reich, Chair
Childrens and Young Adult Book Committee
PEN American Center
Lin Oliver, Executive Director
Society of Childrens Book Writers & Illustrators
Cc: Mark Stamm, mstamm@swasd.org
Jesse Smith, jsmith@swasd.org
Chris Branton, cbranton@swasd.org
Don Lowe, dlowe@swasd.org
Greg Anthony, ganthony@swasd.org
Charles Brownstein, Executive Director
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Millie Davis, Senior Developer
Affiliate Groups and Public Outreach
National Council of Teachers of English
Judy Platt, Director
Free Expression Advocacy
Association of American Publishers
John Weidman, President
Dramatists Legal Defense Fund (DLDF)
Joseph Pulizzi, III, jpulizzi@swasd.org
Jerry C. Broskey, gbroskey@swasd.org
John J. Engel Jr., jengel@swasd.org
Samuel C. Burch, sburch@swasd.org
Sue Davenport, sdavenport@swasd.org