ACLU Defends California Artist After Los Angeles Orders Removal of "God Bless America" Mural

October 23, 2001 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES–Citing fundamental free speech rights, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California today filed a lawsuit on behalf of an artist demanding that the City of Los Angeles allow his patriotic murals to remain on display.

The City of Los Angeles says that zoning rules allow them to order the removal of Mike McNeilly’s patriotic mural.A few days after the terrorist attacks September 11, artist Mike McNeilly erected a large mural entitled “”9-11” with the words “”God Bless America”” beneath the images of a New York City firefighter, an American Flag and the face of the Statue of Liberty. The mural was erected on a privately owned building in Westwood with the consent of the building’s owner.

On September 21, 2001 the City of Los Angeles issued an order asking the artist to remove the “”9-11” mural. McNeilly refused.

“”There is no justification for such infringements on private, noncommercial speech,”” said Dan Tokaji, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California.

“This is especially true when the city not only tolerates but welcomes both commercial and noncommercial artworks of comparable size on other buildings,”” he added, citing the many lively paintings on buildings lining Sunset Blvd., paintings of classical musicians next to the 110 freeway downtown, and giant-sized paintings of Shaquille O’Neill and Wilt Chamberlain on a hotel near the Staples Center.

“”If there is anything that we should learn from our history,”” said Tokaji, “”it is that the values that people are talking about these days – freedom and democracy – are most in jeopardy in times of crisis. Now is a time when we should be most vigilant to protect those freedoms that make this country great and that unite us as Americans.””

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