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In a lightning strike on the federal arts budget, the House voted last week to cut a symbolic $45,000 from a $171.4 million appropriation for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The cut, although not massive in terms of dollars, sends a big signal to the NEA that the funding of controversial art will not be tolerated. Serious First Amendment questions are also raised. (See story, Page 10.)

The retaliatory $45,000 cut is exactly the sum of two NEA grants given to arts organizations that backed controversial NEA-funded photo exhibitions by Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe. The exhibitions, branded by some as blasphemous and pornographic, aroused fierce debate in Congress.

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The Seranno controversy focused on his irreverent photographic treatment of a Christian symbol, the Maplethorpe debate on several photographs of an explicitly homosexual and sadomasochistic nature.

The $45,000 cut is not final, since the Senate has yet to consider the NEA funding.

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