Taking down Ferguson painting is ‘unconstitutional,’ Missouri congressman says

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WASHINGTON — Rep. William Lacy Clay said that taking down the Capitol high school art competition painting of police-community relations in Ferguson, Mo., is unconstitutional.

After a week of hanging and unhanging, the painting was removed on Tuesday.

In a statement Tuesday, Clay blasted the Architect of the Capitol for siding with Republicans.

“By his unprecedented and unconstitutional action, following criticism of the artwork by Speaker Ryan and several GOP Members, the Architect of the Capitol acted to suppress the free speech rights of my constituent, and they have also sent a chilling message to young Americans that their voices are not respected, their views are not valued, and their freedom of expression is no longer protected in the U.S. Capitol,” Clay said.

The painting by Clay’s constituent, which depicts police officers as animals, was the subject of a tug of war between Democrats and Republicans last week, which involved four Republicans on three different occasions taking the painting down and bringing it to Clay’s office.

“The assertion that the painting did not comply with the rules of the Congressional Art Competition is arbitrary and insulting,” Clay continued.

The painting was ruled to be in violation of House Office Building Commission rules after Washington Republican Dave Reichert wrote a letter last week to Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers. On Thursday, Speaker Paul D. Ryan called for the painting to be removed and called it “disgusting” on a radio show.

Clay said it will hang it in his Capitol Hill office, for now.

“I plan to seek reversal of the Architect’s determination in short order. Supreme Court precedent clearly falls on the side of artistic freedom as protected speech,” he said.

Congressional Black Caucus chairman Cedric L. Richmond, D-La., added that the removal shows “politics has yet again trumped common sense.”

“Rather than engage in a thoughtful dialogue about what would motivate an 18 year-old to express himself in this way, the Architect of the Capitol and congressional leaders have chosen to exercise their power to suppress a child’s free expression,” Richmond said.

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