ACLU of Washington Welcomes City's Apology to Artists for Censoring Their Works

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
March 3, 2003 12:00 am

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PASCO, WA–The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington today welcomed an apology by city officials for violating the First Amendment rights of two local artists whose works were excluded from a City Hall exhibit in 1996.

“We are very pleased to get the apology that the artists have long sought,” said Paul Lawrence, an ACLU cooperating attorney with the law firm Preston Gates Ellis. “It is not the business of government to censor art because some people may find the art controversial.”

The ACLU of Washington represented artists Janette Hopper and Sharon Rupp in Hopper and Rupp v. City of Pasco and Arts Council of Mid-Columbia Region. Under the terms of a settlement announced today, the city has issued an apology to the artists for censoring their work and further acknowledged that it violated their First Amendment rights.

A 2001 ruling in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that found the City of Pasco violated the rights of Hopper and Rupp precipitated the final settlement. In 1996 the City of Pasco — a city of 37,000 located in southeastern Washington — agreed with artists Janette Hopper and Sharon Rupp to display their artwork publicly at the Pasco City Hall Building.

The works were to be exhibited as part of a partnership between the City of Pasco and the Mid-Columbia Arts Council to display art works at Pasco City Hall on an ongoing basis. Hopper had been invited to exhibit a series of black and white linoleum relief prints, and Rupp had been invited to display several sculptures.

Hopper delivered her prints for display on February 7, 1996 but was told the next day by a representative of the Arts Council that city officials had prevented the Council from hanging the pieces in the Pasco City Hall Gallery. Hopper’s prints depicted Adam and Eve touring German landmarks and included some nudity.

During ensuing conversations and correspondence, city officials informed Hopper that her artwork was not shown because it was considered “sexual” and “sensual,” and because the city feared the works might generate complaints from a local anti-pornography crusader.

Rupp’s sculptures were displayed at the Pasco City Hall Gallery from February 8-15, 1996. On February 15, Pasco city officials ordered the Arts Council to remove them. Among the works was Rupp’s satirical bronze sculpture titled, “To the Democrats, Republicans, and Bi-partisans,” which showed a woman exposing her posterior to her audience.

During ensuing conversations and correspondence, Rupp was informed by city officials that the sculptures were removed because of their sexual nature and because the city had received complaints about the art display. Rupp was also informed that inclusion of her work would make the exhibition a “political” one and therefore had to be removed.

According to the ACLU, the city operated its public art program without a pre-screening process or any guidance as to what kind of work would be considered inappropriate. The city had previously exhibited other works of art with nudity and had no regulations barring works of art such as that submitted by Hopper and Rupp.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the city violated the artists’ rights to freedom of expression. In it’s ruling the court stated, “We do not endorse Pasco’s cramped view of what constitutes censorship, and we find none of the city’s reasons for excluding the art work compelling.”

“The City of Pasco opened City Hall as a public forum for art. The courts have said clearly that once government officials make such a decision, they cannot make choices based on the content of the art-whether it’s controversial or offends someone’s political sensibilities,” said Lawrence.

The City is paying the ACLU $75,000 for attorney fees and costs. Attorney Daniel Poliak also worked on this case for the ACLU.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision is online at

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