NEW YORK -- A test case on censorship and First Amendment rights is heading for U.S. District Court in Buffalo, following the cancellation of a performance art piece at Artpark, a state-run park in Lewiston, N. Y.

Mark Pauline, head of the San Francisco-based performance group Survival Research Laboratories, has sued to force Artpark to reschedule the event, which was canceled last month after park officials learned the show would include the burning of hundreds of Bibles. The performance was to have been staged Sept. 1 in a parking lot above the Niagara River Gorge.

Pauline claims the cancellation violated his First Amendment rights.

His work is characterized by mechanized mayhem. He has hurled cannonballs hundreds of feet, and exploded the carcasses of dogs.

Pauline had billed the event in Lewiston as a "climactic evening performance of machine violence, romance, drama and pathos." But David P. Midland, Artpark president, saw it differently. He called it "an abhorrent act, even if symbolic."

Pauline says Midland caved in to "zealots of the religious right."

Midland says he is "comfortable" with his decision.

"The whole issue of artists going head to head with institutions that are quite supportive of them is probably a misdirection of energy," said David Katzive, visual arts curator at Artpark. "I'm not sure legal action to compel Artpark to present the performance is the best way to get this performance to happen."