Federal judge: Maine’s governor can redecorate

Monday, April 25, 2011

A federal judge has ruled that Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s removal of a mural depicting historic moments in the labor movement does not violate the First Amendment.

Artwork is frequently at the heart of censorship and First Amendment battles, but the images usually involve perceived prurience or hostility to religion. It was very unusual to have a governor declare that a mural was inappropriate for the Department of Labor building because it conveyed an unbalanced view of history and was potentially hostile to businesses.

U.S. District Judge John Woodcock denied the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order, ruling that deciding what to hang on the walls of state office buildings was within the authority of elected officials, who in turn answer to the people of Maine.

So Maine officials are now free to redecorate. The controversy does hold one lesson for public officials in any jurisdiction who are troubled by the political content of art on the walls of public buildings. When asked why art is being removed, the legally safe answer is “It clashes with the drapes.”

The Bangor Daily News has details of the decision.

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