ACLU of Virginia Challenges Dismissal of Censored Art Teacher

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
October 4, 2007 12:00 am


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School Board Fired Teacher for Paintings Produced on His Own Time, Group Says

Richmond, VA – Lawyers for the ACLU of Virginia today filed a lawsuit in federal court in Richmond to challenge the dismissal of Stephen Murmer, a Chesterfield County high school art teacher, who was fired over paintings he produces and sells on his own time. Murmer, who uses his buttocks and other parts of his body to transfer paint onto canvasses, lost his job last December after a video of him demonstrating his technique surfaced on YouTube.com.

“The government has limited power to interfere with our private affairs, especially when those affairs are perfectly legal and protected by the First Amendment,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “We do not believe Chesterfield has the right to fire a teacher for engaging in legitimate creative activities at his own expense and on his own time.”

The video, which originally aired three years ago on a cable television program, became a subject of conversation among students at Monacan High School, where Murmer teaches. Murmer was suspended with pay on December 8, 2006, and then fired by the Chesterfield County School Board on January 9, 2007.

“It appears that Mr. Murmer was fired because Chesterfield school officials were uncomfortable with his painting technique,” added Willis. “Does this mean that other employees can be dismissed if they spend their spare time participating in legitimate artistic, political, or religious activities that make county officials uncomfortable? That’s a dangerously authoritarian approach to local governance.”

In the YouTube.com video, Murmer disguises his face and uses a pseudonym — Stan Murmur — in order to separate his art from his teaching. Although he uses body parts in lieu of a brush, most of Murmer’s paintings are of flowers, butterflies, and other objects from nature. Some of his paintings are nonrepresentational.

Murmer is represented by ACLU cooperating attorneys Tim Schulte and Blackwell Shelley of Shelley and Schulte, P.C. in Richmond, and ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg.

A copy of the complaint is available online at: www.acluva.org

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