Tuesday 3 May 2011

Governmental free speech puts paid to Rosie

In a curious dispute on the US side of the Atlantic, a federal judge has refused an application to order the tiny North-East state of Maine to return a mural to the state Labor Department office from which it was controversially removed in March. Judge John Woodcock held that the State Governor, Paul LePage, was exercising a constitutional right to "government speech" (the right of government to say what it wishes, regardless of the viewpoint expressed) in ordering removal of a 36-foot-long mural which it commissioned, approved, paid for and owned.

LePage ordered the removal of the mural, saying it presented a one-sided view of history. Critics of his action sued, contending that the governor violated their First Amendment right of access to the artwork. Said the judge:
"It is not the business of the federal court to decide what messages the elected leaders of the state of Maine should send about the policies of the state, to tell a prior administration that its own artwork is too slanted to continue to hang on state office walls, to tell the current administration that it must not remove or replace a prior administration's artwork, or to tell a future administration which piece of state art, the new or the old, must stay or go".
The ruling denied a motion for a temporary restraining order to put the mural back up where it had been displayed. Meanwhile, a larger lawsuit claiming First Amendment violations continues. The action has been brought by a group of plaintiffs which includes a union member as well as artists who object to being denied access to the work.

The mural was installed in 2008 and depicts a range of labour-related scenes which include a 1986 paper mill strike, the fictional World War II icon Rosie the Riveter (right) at work in a shipyard and New Deal-era U.S. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, the first female Cabinet member, whose parents were from Maine.

Source: "Federal judge nixes request to replace Maine mural", BusinessWeek.

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