Editorial: Onward or backward?

"Onward We March," an acrylic painting on 48" x 96" canvas by Robin Morris was hanging at the Trumbull Library until the first selectman had it taken down.
"Onward We March," an acrylic painting on 48" x 96" canvas by Robin Morris was hanging at the Trumbull Library until the first selectman had it taken down.

Some Trumbullites, for good reason, are tired of hearing about a controversy surrounding the removal and subsequent re-hanging of a painting at the Trumbull Library. Many, like us, are eager to move forward.

This week, the painting, “Women of Purpose,” is back up, though a question mark still hangs alongside it.
More on the 'Women of Purpose' controversy
So much has happened in the last week that has been a distraction from what we see as the central issue in Trumbull. That is that politics, religion and some egos converged in a way that raised what the ACLU of Connecticut called “serious First Amendment issues” and, perhaps, an overreaching of authority. The collateral damage of that has been far-reaching and divisive. It includes a threat of ethics violation charges against Library Director Susan Horton, a not-so-gentle reminder from First Selectman Timothy Herbst to the library board members that they can all be replaced by his appointment, and Trumbull’s new police chief being mistakenly brought into the fray.

Last week, when we heard about and began reporting on the painting, part of the Great Minds Collection, being taken down, we strongly disagreed with the removal, likening it, in our minds, to a leader, group or individual walking into a public library and taking a book off the shelf because someone found it offensive.

Herbst has vehemently denied that the painting came down because of pressure from some members of a Catholic group in town. Emails between members of the Knights of Columbus indicate that they believed Herbst supported their cause and was working for them to get it down. Could that simply be an example of Herbst being a good politician and making his constituents feel heard and understood? Sure. Still, the copyright concerns cited around this painting were flimsy at best, and didn’t warrant taking that painting down for any period of time.

Should the library have had an indemnity agreement with Richard Resnick, the owner of the Great Minds Collection, before it was put up? Yes. However, he was more than willing to fix that immediately and said so in a written email to the town.
While both sides say copyright is settled, we now have a legal back-and-forth on the terms of an indemnity agreement that appears to be at a standstill. We still don't know how this would play out at the library board meeting Wednesday night.

Central to this issue all along has been the religious debate about this painting. We respect those opinions, which is why we provide a public forum for residents to share those thoughts, online and in print. If those opposed still want to voice their protest to this, they have every right to do so. Religious freedom is another important part of our Constitution.

No one can expect to change someone’s deeply held beliefs. That doesn’t mean we should censor artwork and expression in a public library. We hear the call for respect that some of faith have asserted. If a well-respected Catholic institution, Fairfield University, can welcome debate and intellectual discussion on this exhibit, why can’t Trumbull?

The painting will likely lead viewers to learn something new. Who were these women? What did they believe? In learning that, they would see how very different those historical figures are. Even if they all had existed in the same time, place and part of the world, they might never really stand together, as many critics have said. However, this artist created an imaginary world showing a group of leaders, whether you see them as good or bad, standing together for a brief moment, bonded only by the fact that they are all women who believed quite strongly in their personal convictions and used those to change the world.

This week, many Trumbullites, including First Selectman Herbst, Richard Resnick, the library staff and board, Knights of Columbus, and the general public have felt strongly and likely believe they are doing what is right. We do not all agree — far from it. But would it be so bad if, for a moment, we took a cue from that painting — put all the differences aside and walk ahead? Or is that, too, an imaginary world? Maybe someone should paint it.