PAUL LEPAGE
BUFFOONISH CENSORSHIP OF MURAL EMBARRASSES MAINE

It was a self-inflicted embarrassment that garnered national mockery. In March, Governor PAUL LEPAGE ordered that a 36-foot-long mural on Maine's labor history be removed from the state's Department of Labor. The grounds: it was too pro-labor.

free speech offender Paul LePage
LePage, a Republican who was elected with strong Tea Party backing, was widely lampooned. It was later revealed that he hadn't even seen the mural. A New York Times editorial incredulously observed that the governor had cited an anonymous fax comparing the painting to North Korean "brainwashing" as a reason for its removal. Time magazine mentioned it in its "Milestones" section, normally reserved for deaths and other significant transitions. The Portland Phoenix announced a contest to come up with a pro-business mural to honor "the brave executives who put down the 1937 women's strike" and "steadfast proponents of child labor."

And there were some unintended consequences: the federal government told LePage to return the $60,000 in federal funds that had been paid to Judy Taylor, the artist who won a competition to produce the mural, which was unveiled in 2008.

A lawsuit aimed at forcing LePage to restore the mural failed, despite the revelation that the governor hadn't even seen the artwork personally. In April, US District Court judge John Woodcock Jr. ruled that such a measure would amount to an unconstitutional abridgement of the state government's own free-speech rights. Yet surely it is a dubious application of the First Amendment when government officials use it to restrict rather than expand speech.

LePage's action was a ludicrous and insulting example of official censorship, carried out against a notable piece of art for purely political purposes.

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