SAN BERNARDINO (CBSLA.com) — San Bernardino County officials have been accused of violating artists’ First Amendment rights after three paintings were removed from the Government Center.
Officials said one painting by Armando Aleman and two by Efren Montiel Jimenez, which showcased nudity, were taken down after some people were offended.
“We didn’t think it was fair for people in their workplace to be subjected to something that they felt was offensive,” said city spokesman David Wert.
Wert said the county invited artists to submit their work without any stipulations for an annual art exhibition that highlights National Hispanic Heritage Month.
“In retrospect, I wish we had taken a look at the artwork in advance,” he said.
Aleman, who created the work “Prayers to the Gods,” was thrilled to have it accepted by the county until he received an e-mail asking him to pick it up.
“You encourage it and now it’s almost like you’re backtracking. It’s a bit disappointing that at the first sign of fire, you run,” he said.
After hearing about the incident, the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Civil Liberties Union sent the county a letter which said, in part, “…as a public space opened to exhibiting artwork, the Government Center is ruled by the free speech clause in the First Amendment, meaning that government officials cannot arbitrarily impose their prejudices on a curated exhibition.”
The ACLU is also considering legal action.
Wert said he doesn’t see the situation as a legal issue.
“I don’t know that I’d refer to it as a censorship more than I’d refer to it as discretion,” he said.
Meantime, Aleman allowed the county to keep two of his other paintings.
“I can put a time and place and emotion on every piece of work I’ve ever done,” he said.