Mayor's Office Violates First Amendment Rights of Artist

August 14, 2001 12:00 am

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HONOLULU – The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai`i today filed a lawsuit in federal court against the City and County of Honolulu for improperly banning artist Daria Fand’s art work from an “Art of Women” exhibit at Honolulu Hale in March of this year. The piece was banned because officials from the Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts found Fand’s piece, “”Last of the Believers””, which depicts a nude woman on a cross, to be “controversial” and “”offensive.””

“”The City blatantly deprived Ms. Fand of her rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Hawaii State Constitution,”” said Brent White, legal director of the ACLU of Hawai`i.

Fand was one of several artists invited by the Honolulu County Committee on the Status of Women and the Mayor’s Office on Culture and the Arts (MOCA) to submit work for the exhibit, “”The Art of Women: Celebrating the Challenges and Successes of Girl and Women Artists with Disabilities””. The non-juried show, held March 14-30 as part of Women’s History Month, was intended to promote the work of many women artists.

The exhibit was co-sponsored by several disability rights groups.

The ACLU maintains in the lawsuit that it is a basic principle of law that the potentially controversial nature of a piece of art is never proper grounds for government censorship and that the artist’s portrayal of a nude woman does not make the censorship any more acceptable. In fact, the Art of Women exhibit itself contained other paintings of nude women.

“”The fact that the City banned Ms. Fand’s artwork and violated her freedom of expression is symptomatic of the City’s lack of proper respect for the First Amendment, which protects controversial speech,”” said White. “”Here, the City was clearly concerned that the sight of a nude woman on a cross might offend certain conservative Christian individuals. Rather than risk offending these individuals, the City deprived Ms. Fand of her constitutional rights and all of us of the opportunity to view the works of an impressive and talented artist.””

The ACLU seeks to accomplish three things with its lawsuit:

1. To vindicate the principle that refusing to display “”Last of the Believers”” at Honolulu Hale constituted improper censorship by the City and violated Fand’s First Amendment rights.
2. To prevent the City from improperly censoring art to be exhibited at Honolulu Hale in the future.
3. To require that the City compensate Ms. Fand for her lost opportunity to display her work, either financially or by displaying “”Last of the Believer.””

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