Heard on the Hill

Clay and First Amendment Scholar Ask Speaker Not to Remove Ferguson Painting

Missouri Democrat teams up with Maryland freshman

Reps. William Lacy Clay and Jamie Raskin wrote to Speaker Paul D. Ryan about a controversial painting by Missouri student David Pulphus depicting police as animals  that was hung in the tunnel connecting the U.S. Capitol to the Cannon House Office building as part of the annual student art exhibit. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Missouri Democrat William Lacy Clay really doesn’t want Speaker Paul D. Ryan to get his constituent’s painting removed from the Capitol’s high school art competition. 

[Controversial Ferguson Painting Removed From Display for Third Time]

Clay teamed up with new Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, who is a First Amendment constitutional scholar to write a letter expressing their concern, which was sent to the Speaker on Wednesday.

“In America we don’t arrest artwork,” the letter opened. “We write to express our grave concern that you may follow up on an act of vigilante censorship in the House of Representatives by taking formal steps to remove a painting by St. Louis Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School Senior David Pulphus from display on a wall in the tunnel between the Cannon House Office Building and the Capitol.”

[Hunter Removes Controversial Ferguson Police Painting from Cannon Tunnel]

Over the last few days, the painting has been taken down by four different Republican members, on three separate occasions, and taken to Clay’s office. Clay has returned it every time to the tunnel.

In the letter, they said that the painting “appears to be influenced by Picasso’s violent dreamscape in Guernica and George Orwell’s dystopian parable Animal Farm.”

They asked Ryan, “Why would we launch our new Congress with this experiment in artistic control?”

[Reichert Finds Ferguson Police Relations Painting in the Capitol Offensive]

The artwork, entitled “Untitled #1,” depicts police-community relations in Ferguson, Missouri.

Washington Republican David Reichert sent a letter on Wednesday to Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers saying that the painting violates the guidelines of the art competition, the letter said.

Reichert, who worked in law enforcement for 33 years, was one of the first criticisms about the painting but never took it off the wall.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.