Bullock Texas State History Museum Censors History Book Event

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According to media reports, the Bullock Texas State History Museum has stepped down as co-organizer of a virtual event with the authors of Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth. The July 1 event was canceled following pressure from a number of state politicians, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who announced on Twitter that he “told staff to cancel this event”. The Museum cited “increased pressure on social networks”. Forget the Alamo reframes the story of the Battle of Alamo, complicating traditional narratives by emphasizing the slavery-preserving role played in Texas’ struggle for independence from Mexico.

The NCAC, along with several national free speech organizations, wrote to the Texas State Preservation Board of Governors, as well as the management of the Bullock Museum to reinforce their responsibility to uphold free speech and avoid leaving political prejudices influence the ideas that the public is allowed to adopt. to discuss.

As the NCAC wrote, “Discussing a book about a historical event in a history museum does not constitute endorsement of the views expressed by the authors. Rather, by hosting the event, the museum was doing exactly what a history museum should do: provide a space for discussion. Indeed, the event was precisely in line with the Bullock Museum’s stated mission to “interpret the evolving history of Texas through meaningful educational experiences.”

The NCAC argues that the State Preservation Board does not have the power to overrule conservation decisions by Bullock Museum staff simply because board members do not agree with the views expressed in the exhibits of the museum or by participants in museum events. The debate of Forget the Alamo was clearly educational in nature, did not constitute lobbying, and was not otherwise excluded under Texas law. Considering in particular the elected positions held by the members of the Council, the directive to cancel the event constitutes a veto of censure based very clearly on the discrimination of opinion.

As the letter to the Board states: “It is clear from public statements by officials of the Texas government that the event was canceled because these officials did not agree with the views expressed by the authors. of the book. Such point of view discrimination is unconstitutional. Although the museum’s offerings are not a traditional public forum, even in non-public forums, the government cannot engage in point of view discrimination.

More and more frequently, elected officials use their power to pressure cultural institutions to censor ideas with which they disagree. This trend is directly linked to efforts to control the way history is taught in schools. There is often an underlying threat that officials are trying to punish the institution, potentially by denying funding, even if that would violate the First Amendment.

It is ultimately up to museum leaders to uphold the museum’s commitment to delivering a wide range of programs, allowing the public to encounter new and controversial ideas, question their own preconceptions and broaden their thinking. . Protecting the autonomy of cultural institutions from political partisanship is an essential responsibility of those charged with administering them.

And it is imperative that we stand up against it when our political leaders attempt to control the discussions our cultural institutions are allowed to inspire. As a society, we rely on these institutions to provide spaces for civic discourse and enable us to question ideas, whether or not we agree with those ideas.

The NCAC supports cultural leaders in resisting political pressure and maintaining the autonomy of cultural institutions.

Read the full letter to Margaret Koch, director of the Bullock Texas State History Museum here. The letter was co-signed by Authors Guild, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and PEN America.

Read the full letter to the Texas State Preservation Board below. Click here for a full screen view.


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