Honolulu Settles Lawsuit Over Banned Art

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
March 6, 2002 12:00 am

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HONOLULU — The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai`i today announced the settlement of a case filed against the City and County of Honolulu for banning the art work of a local artist from an exhibit at Honolulu’s City Hall last year.

Last of the Believers

“Last of the Believers”, painting by ACLU plaintiff, Daria Fand

“The First Amendment protects even controversial or offensive speech,” said Brent White, Legal Director of the ACLU of Hawai’i. “Rather than risk offending certain individuals, the City deprived our client of her constitutional rights and sought to deny area residents of the opportunity to view the work and make up our own minds about the piece.”

The piece by artist Daria Fand is titled “Last of the Believers” and it depicts a nude woman stretched on a cross. Under the settlement with the ACLU, the artwork will now be displayed in City Hall.

The piece was banned from a city-sponsored exhibit titled Art of Women: Celebrating the Challenges and Successes of Girl and Women Artists with Disabilities. The showcase was planned as part of a series of events celebrating Women’s History Month. Officials from the Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts said they found the piece “controversial” and “offensive” and took steps to have Fand’s work removed from the exhibit.

The ACLU argued that the potentially controversial nature of a piece of art is never proper grounds for government censorship and stressed that the City’s move violated a core principle of the First Amendment. ACLU attorneys also pointed out that the artist’s portrayal of a nude woman does not make the censorship any more acceptable, a notion put forward by lawyers for the City. In fact, the “Art of Women” exhibit itself contained other paintings of nude women not censored by the City.

As part of the settlement, the City of Honolulu will suspend a portion of its exhibit application form until it creates policy that prohibits arbitrary content-based discrimination. The city has also been ordered to pay the ACLU attorneys fees and other court costs.

“The settlement vindicates the principle that refusing to display controversial art on public property constituted improper censorship by the City and violated our client’s First Amendment rights,” White said.

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