NEW ORLEANS – Madisonville Republican Rob Maness, a retired United States Air Force colonel and candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2014, and Roger Kennedy, a jazz musician and sound engineer from New Orleans, contributed the following regarding the City of New Orleans’ recent removal of four monuments in New Orleans:
Those who would encourage government to selectively censor artwork based on its offensive nature traverse a proverbial slippery slope, regardless of the subject or scope of the perceived offense itself. With close friends on both sides of the Confederate era monument removal debate, we understand and empathize with the passion driving each faction. But we'll tell you, as a lifelong Democrat who has zero attachment to these monuments and a lifelong Republican who has dedicated his entire career in the military to defending our rights, most everyone is ignoring the bigger picture here.
Three years ago, a group of concerned citizens helped defeat a Mitch Landrieu-crafted noise ordinance revision proposal, not because any of us were enamored with Bourbon Street cover bands or French Quarter street huskers, but because of the precedent of selective government oppression it would have created. The proposed law would have placed stricter standards on the volume of live music than it would have on any other sources of sound - and therein lies the parallel with the debate over 19th Century sculptures. It's a First Amendment issue of free expression and a Fourteenth Amendment problem with unequal protection and enforcement under the law.
Content neutrality is at the foundation of free expression, a universal principle, which the highest courts have consistently affirmed. Art is often considered offensive. Art stirs emotions both good and bad, with righteous indignation in the mind of the beholder. For every painting of police as pigs or of a crucifix in a commode full of urine that's constitutionally protected and allowed to stand, there's also a Confederate statue somewhere.
The many volumes of legal precedent are consistent, clear and evident. For example, in Consol. Edison Co. v. Pub. Serv. Comm'n, 447 U.S. 530, 537-38 (1980), the majority opinion states that "... the chief purpose of content neutrality is to prevent a government from supervising the marketplace of ideas ...." That's exactly the mayor's stated motive in the case here.
And regarding public display, in Brown v. Town of Cary, 706 F.3d 294, 300 (4th Cir. 2013) states that "... places such as parks, streets and sidewalks fall into the category of public property traditionally held open to the public for expressive activity ...." That expressive activity includes the public display of artwork.
Even the ACLU agrees, saying that " ... (T)he government cannot limit expression just because any(one), or even a majority of a community, is offended by its content. In the context of art and entertainment, this means tolerating some works that we might find offensive, insulting, outrageous or just plain bad ...."
If the city had unveiled plans to upgrade these public spaces with community improvements, a more positive message, the statue removal itself could have been just one step in the process and a mere footnote. Perhaps if they had been moved to wherever their future home might be as one trip instead of taken in the dead of night by masked mercenaries and hidden in some previously undisclosed location, there might not be such friction surrounding this.
The decision by the mayor to politicize and grandstand at every opportunity by hopping on his soapbox, citing his disgust and indignation as the attached subtext, and proclaiming on multiple occasions that these sculptures must be removed from public view, as their story and their history would be too difficult or too uncomfortable for a parent to explain to their child, clearly identify the reasons for removal as unconstitutional government censorship.
His myopic view has blown the process out of both context and perspective, and served to further fan the growing flames of recently rekindled racial division. But the mayor has effectively murdered two birds with one stone by creating a controversial media diversion away from the city's more pressing issues while securing himself quite a bit of national face time to help further his own career.
Even in his speech hailed by the globalist progressives as "one for the ages," the Mayor said "We gave the world this funky thing called jazz, the most uniquely American art form that is developed across the ages from different cultures," then each of us need to answer this question: If he really believes what he said, why did Mayor Landrieu use public power and resources to censor these works of art as they are a deeply rooted part of the New Orleans, Louisiana, and American culture?
If primitive cultures and ancient civilizations had shared the mayor's opinion regarding the vanquished and their "lost causes," there would be little need for public park displays or museums today and the history of civilization would remain a mystery. The art form we call jazz might have never flourished in this city for the world to enjoy were it not for a spirit of racial tolerance and culture acceptance absent from this aggression.
We understand and empathize with both positions here, but these are clearly First and Fourteenth Amendment issues that have had little discussion. The added dimension of the globalist progressive agenda at work, for whom our mayor is a poster child, should be cause for concern for all who wish to preserve the rights of equal protection and of free expression for all Americans.