It was no doubt to be expected that the failure of the courts to formulate a workable definition of obscenity in the arts would sooner or later prompt a further erosion of the standards likely to obtain in publicly funded cultural programs in this country. This is what has now happened—and pretty much on schedule, too—with the refusal of the National Council on the Arts and the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts to honor the so-called “decency” provision in the legislation reauthorizing the operations of the NEA for another three years.

The new legislation, which was passed by Congress in October after a good deal of delay, uproar, and debate requires the chairman of the NEA to take cognizance of “general standards of decency” in determining the agency ...