A federal judge denied a legal effort by Democratic Missouri Rep. Lacy Clay to rehang a painting on a Capitol building wall showing the Ferguson neighborhood of St. Louis with police officers depicted as pigs.
Judge John Bates of the District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled Friday that “Untitled #1” was government speech and therefore was legally removed by members of Congress who objected to its content.
The painting was created by former Cardinal Ritter College Prep student David Pulphus as a piece that was entered into the annual art contest Congress holds for high school students in each member’s district.
“There is little doubt that the removal of the painting was based on its viewpoint,” Bates wrote in his ruling.
However, Judge Bates added, “Although the Court is sympathetic to plaintiffs given the treatment afforded Pulphus’ art, under controlling authority this case involves government speech, and hence plaintiffs have no First Amendment rights at stake.”
The painting makes references to the 2014 fatal police shooting of Ferguson resident Michael Brown, an incident that set off riots in the area that year. Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson was cleared by federal and state investigators of any wrongdoing in the incident.
Pulphus’s painting hung on a wall with other high school painting winners in a tunnel that connects the Capitol to House office buildings for four months until its presence was noted by the Independent Journal Review.
Republican members of Congress argued that Pulphus’ painting violated the rules of the contest by showing “subjects of contemporary political controversy,” or of “sensationalistic or gruesome nature.”
Bates stated in his decision that two other paintings on the wall could also be seen as “gruesome” images, but that he was being only being asked to rule on “Untitled #1.”