Letter: Hypocrisy reigns in Trumbull

To the Editor:

It is important to stand up for our Federal First Amendment rights. It is also important to be concerned about potential liability. But it is a recipe for abuse if you concoct a reason for concern simply to ignore rights guaranteed under our Constitution.

Such is the state of affairs in Trumbull.

In November, Richard Resnick permitted the Trumbull Library to display 33 works of art entitled “The Great Minds” Collection for their depiction of people that have contributed significantly to society. Included in the collection, for example, are Hippocrates, Shakespeare, Darwin, Freud, Einstein, Mother Teresa, Steven Hawking, and Oprah.

As any library goer could attest, this exhibit followed many that have been displayed there over the years.

Many works of art have been prominently displayed elsewhere in Trumbull. There is, for example, currently a display of paintings at Town Hall. Never before has there been concern that any such art violated a copyright. Never has there been a concern that an indemnity was required to shield the Town from liability -- until the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Church raised objection to a stylized depiction of Mother Teresa. That objection was not to her display (at least at the beginning), but an objection to her being included in a painting with someone who had different views.

The painting, entitled “Women United,” depicts women from many ages who had a great influence on society, from Abigail Adams and Clara Barton to Mother Teresa and, in a far corner, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. The objection first sounded as though that it was abhorrent to include Mother Teresa in any painting where a stance included a representative of pro-choice.

When that objection presented itself to First Selectman Tim Herbst he expressed outrage over the painting. He quickly informed the library director that he was “not happy.” The Bishop called Mr. Herbst demanding that the painting “Women United” be removed. Mr. Herbst’s Chief of Staff announced that the first selectman wanted the painting removed. The library and Dr. Resnick stood firm, however, citing concern over 1st Amendment rights and the importance of generating quality discussion of women’s issues.

Not to be deterred, the powers that be endeavored to construct an alternate reason to force the painting to come down: “Copyright infringement.” The Town Attorney opined that it is better to be safe. Take the painting down. So Mr. Herbst ordered the painting removed, claiming he was protecting the Town from potential copyright liability.

What happened next demonstrated the hypocrisy and the fact that the copyright concern was mere pretext.

In a press release, Mr. Herbst championed the need to take the protective action, the need to protect the Town from liability and the need to instill new measures to ensure that this situation never happens again. In addition to sending his press release to the media, he posted it on the Town website for all to see.

Pretty good stuff until you notice that he placed a photo of the work in controversy, the “Women United.” It was included right there in the release and on the Town website for all to see. The painting was removed from the library wall since he was concerned about copyright but apparently it was fine to post it on the Internet for the entire electronic world to see.

If a person were truly concerned about copyright, why would he place the photo of the very painting in question on the Town’s website while ordering it removed from the wall of the library? Were “Great Minds” thwarted by small minds?

Hypocrisy is defined as the pretense for one thing while the real motive is another. In Trumbull, perhaps it should be called Herbstocrisy.

Attorney Bruce L. Elstein, member of Trumbull law firm Goldman, Gruder & Woods and Trumbull resident, represented painting owner, Richard Resnick.