03/04/2013 08:00 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Boulder County ACLU Protests CU Censorship Of Student Art Featuring Female Genitalia

The Boulder County chapter of the ACLU is urging the University of Colorado not to censor student art, following controversy over the school's removal of a student art exhibit featuring female genitalia.

Judd Golden, chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union's local chapter, sent a letter to CU on Monday urging the art department to "encourage interested students and the public to view and draw their own conclusions." Golden also offered to help CU develop a student art policy.

CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard countered that it's not a free speech issue. Instead, he said, the exhibit, which was in a public lobby of the school's Visual Arts Complex, was moved to a basement gallery because the content was deemed too mature for touring high school students who regularly came through the lobby.

"We made substantial accommodations for the student," Hilliard said. "We don't believe we engaged in censorship or anything like it. The First Amendment allows us to make restrictions on time, place and manner."

In December, CU graduate art student Clarissa Peppers installed two of her pieces in the Visual Arts Complex lobby. The works, titled "I Don't Whistle" and "When in Rome," featured looping videos of a swinging bell and cyclamen flowers, respectively, below female genitalia.

A few hours later, the chairman of CU's Department of Art and Art History removed the pieces because of complaints and relocated them to the basement.

The decision sparked controversy in which fellow students, faculty members and national anti-censorship advocates spoke out in support of the artist. The saga culminated with Peppers re-applying for the Visual Arts Complex lobby space and, ultimately, reinstalling her work there last week -- with cautionary signage and a floor-to-ceiling curtain to protect people who would be offended.

Her work came down Saturday, the scheduled end of its run.

According to Golden, cautionary signage -- that some art may be "offensive" and the works "contain nudity" -- chills free expression and may prejudice potential viewers.

"Once you allow the government to censor someone else, or to marginalize artwork by 'warning' people that it is possibly offensive, we have ceded to government the power to censor or marginalize everyone," Golden wrote in his letter. ___