A federal judge has rejected efforts to reinstall a painting in the Capitol that some lawmakers and police groups found offensive because it depicts police officers with animal heads.
David Pulphus, a student artist from Missouri, and Rep. William Clay, his Democratic congressman, had sued Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers for removing the painting in January. They sought a preliminary injunction to have the painting restored as the lawsuit proceeds, but the judge denied their motion.
On Tuesday, Clay and Pulphus said they would appeal the judge’s ruling.
“We believe our Constitution simply cannot tolerate a situation where artwork can be removed from the Capitol for the first time ever as a result of a series of ideologically and politically driven complaints,” they said in a statement.
The painting depicts events in Ferguson, Missouri, after a white police officer shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in 2014.
The painting shows two police officers with guns drawn facing a young man as protesters look on. The officers are shown with the heads of pigs. The young man has the head of a wolf and a long tail. The protesters hold signs saying “Racism Kills,” ”Stop Killing” and “History.”
In a ruling dated last Friday, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates said the government used its editorial discretion in the selection and presentation of the art. As a result, it was engaging in “government speech” and the plaintiffs have no First Amendment right to display the painting at the Capitol.