WASHINGTON — Missouri Democratic Rep. Lacy Clay called an attempt by House Speaker Paul Ryan to remove a controversial painting in the Capitol by a young artist in his district “retroactive, vigilante censorship.”
Clay’s charge comes after Ryan went on to the Mike Gallagher radio program Thursday and stated the painting, “Untitled #1,” a painting depicting police officers as pigs shooting at protesters in a black St. Louis neighborhood, violated the rules of the annual Congressional art competition and the Capitol architect is now reviewing it after Washington Republican Rep. Dave Reichert sent him a letter with the request.
“This is not a free-for all contest where anything can go in the Capitol. There are rules that govern this. We see that this does not fit the rules and so we are processing that decision right now,” Ryan said.
Speaker Ryan added, “We have rules of that govern what paintings can go up on here. This one slipped by for some reason.”
When asked by Gallagher if he was confident that the painting would be removed, Ryan responded, “I am.”
“From the beginning, this has really been about just two simple things…standing up for my 18-year old constituent, and defending the 1st Amendment,” Rep. Clay said in a statement.
Clay went on to say, “This painting by David Pulphus, just like the other 400+ entries, was accepted and approved by the Congressional Art Competition and it has been peacefully displayed in a public forum for more than six months.”
The Missouri Democrat explained, “The only difference is that the Speaker and his Republican colleagues are attempting to suppress free speech with their own brand of retroactive, vigilante censorship against my constituent. Apparently, they believe that the First Amendment does not protect him. That’s not only mean-spirited and wrong, it’s also unconstitutional.”
Ryan rejected the idea that the matter is a First Amendment issue, telling Gallagher, “his isn’t a question of First Amendment rights. Of course this young person has the right to do something like this…but we have rules that govern these paintings. So it’s not as if you have a Constitutional right to hang whatever painting you want in the House hallway in the Capitol gallery.”
Ryan quoted the rules of the competition that say that paintings cannot include “subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature.”