Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has a problem with 26-year old John Otte's schoolwork, and he wants the whole state to know.
For his advanced directing class at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Otte was allowed to select the play of his choice to direct. He chose Texas native Terrence McNally's Corpus Christi, in which Jesus and his disciples are reimagined as gay men in modern-day Texas. In the play, the Jesus figure performs a marriage ceremony for two of his gay disciples and is later crucified under a sign that deems him the "King of Queers."
Of the many student-directed plays that will be put on this weekend at Tarleton State, Otte's has garnered the most attention — much of it negative. Extra security has been called in. The audience restricted to classmates and family members. The curtain time was moved up to the very un-Broadway-like 8 a.m. on Saturday.
And now, Act II: Enter the Politicans.
Says Dewhurst in a statement released this afternoon:
Every citizen is entitled to the freedom of speech, but no one should have the right to use government funds or institutions to portray acts that are morally reprehensible to the majority of Americans.
Texans don’t deserve to see their hard-earned tax money used to debase their religion. This lewd display runs completely contrary to the standards of scholastic excellence and common decency that we demand in our publicly-funded institutions for higher learning.
Why is the lieutenant governor weighing in? His office says their inboxes filled up to a level that warranted a response. Dewhurst spokesman Rich Parsons says, "Our office has been contacted by a number of people expressing concern and anger and outrage at the use of state resources."
Tarleton State President F. Dominic Dottavio released a statement making it clear that he sees "no artistic or redeeming quality in the work." He believes it to be "offensive, crude, and irreverent." Yet he defends its right to be performed, recognizing that the performance is a class project, even if it is not endorsed or produced by Tarleton. He explains in a release:
As a public university we are legally bound to allow the student production to go forward. We have had many conversations with the Office of General Counsel for The Texas A&M University System and they have made it clear to us that this is an unambiguous freedom of speech (First Amendment) issue. The Supreme Court of the United States has consistently held that public universities may not engage in the sort of censorship that prohibiting this student’s project would involve. This concept was reaffirmed by the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act which stressed that students should not be intimidated, harassed, or discouraged from speaking out.