ACLU: Serious First Amendment issues raised, Knights' involvement 'ironic'

An attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut has sent First Selectman Tim Herbst a letter today, citing specific concerns about the removal of a painting at The Trumbull Library.

The ACLU attorney's letter says the town can't remove a painting, merely due to concerns presented by some constituents, and it calls involvement by The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, "ironic."

"We are pleased and relieved that the dispute over the display of the painting commissioned and loaned to the library by Dr. Resnick appears to have been resolved by the town's willingness to accept a signed indemnity agreement,"  Attorney David McGuire writes. "We do not necessarily fault you or corporation counsel for holding matters in abeyance until copyright concerns were assuaged.

"For future reference however, we wish to make clear that, given the speciousness of any copyright concerns, the removal of the painting raises serious First Amendment issues. Since the controversy is moot, we shall not burden you with voluminous authority," the ACLU attorney writes.

The letters goes on to reference two court decisions, including a 1989 decision they say makes clear the First Amendment protects "fictional or semi-fictional" work against all statutory and common law infringement claims. "The painting certainly falls within this definition," the attorney said.

Another decision, involving an image of Tiger Woods with other winners of the Masters Tournament, done in an artistic way. Tiger Woods brought a trademark lawsuit that was dismissed.

"The Resnick painting likewise "consists of a collage of images," in addition to Mother Teresa's image, to convey a message: that she and others have, in different way, advanced the causes of social justice and women's equality," McGuire writes. "As Attorney Kokenos's opinion letter seems to recognize, the Town cannot remove the painting merely because some of your constituents find the message objectionable."

McGuire also mentions the involvement of the Knights of Columbus, something The Times reported on earlier this week.

"We find this ironic," McGuire says of the Knights' objection, "inasmuch as two decades ago the Knights were vigorous free speech proponents in Creatore v. Town of Trumbull (in which we represented the Town): a challenge to the Town's refusal to permit their unattended creche to stand outside the Town Hall during the Christmas season. We are sorry that the present complaintants do not show the same solicitude for the speech rights of others."

Dr. Richard Resnick's attorneys sent a signed indemnity agreement to the town Friday morning and ask that the painting be re-hung today.

Thursday, Herbst accused the library board of escalating the controversy and alleged Library Director Susan Horton may have violated the ethics code.