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Appeals Court Upholds Maine Gov's Removal of Labor Mural
11/29/2012   Reported By: Susan Sharon

Now that a U.S. Court of Appeals has sided with Maine Gov. Paul LePage in his removal of a labor history mural from the Maine Department of Labor, the question is, what's next? The governor ordered the mural removed because he thought it presented a one-sided, pro-labor view of history. As Susan Sharon reports, an attorney for the labor activists and artists who challenged the governor's action would like to see it displayed in another state building instead.

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At issue was whether removal of the 11-panel mural (one section, above) violated First Amendment rights of the plantiffs and the public to receive information and ideas, or whether it represented government speech on the part of the administration. The courts, so far, have sided with the governor.

"It's a sad day when censorship triumphs over First Amendment rights," says attorney Jeff Young, who represents the five plaintiffs in the case.

The 36-foot-long mural has been hidden from public view ever since the governor ordered it banished from the Labor Department's lobby early last year. Depicting scenes of labor strikes, textile and forestry workers, child laborers, and former U.S. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, the artwork was commissioned during Democratic Gov. John Baldacci's administration. But Republican Gov. LePage says some visitors to the building found it "offensive."

And while the governor's legal right to remove the mural has been upheld, attorney Jeff Young says the court of public opinion takes a dim view of the governor's position. Boistrous protests were held in Augusta as the story made headlines around the country. Young says there is one way for LePage to make amends:

"The governor has said throughout that the state would not display the mural until the litigation is resolved. And what we're saying is, if it would resolve the litigation and the governor were to agree to display the mural in an appropriate setting, such as the Maine State Museum, that we would certainly consider forgoing our appellate options," he says.

In other words, plaintiffs might agree to bury the hatchet and refrain from taking the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, or even back to a state court, where Young says additional arguments could be raised. But the governor's spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett told The Associated Press the offer is "insulting" because her boss has all along promised to display the artwork.

Bennett did not return telephone calls to MPBN seeking comment for this story. Young says plaintiffs are also considering a legislative remedy now that Democrats control the Maine House and Senate.


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