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Lakewood agrees to restore censored artwork


March 16, 2005


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Colorado announced today that Lakewood city officials have agreed to restore to its original condition an art exhibit that they censored last month on the ground that they believed it was “anti-American” and “anti-military.”


“Art is expression that is protected by the Constitution,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “The First Amendment forbids government officials from censoring or suppressing art because they disagree with the message they believe it communicates.”

Lemke’s piece, titled “Hope Stones,” is an array of small ceramic “stones” containing quotations on the theme of war and peace from various past and present political and literary figures, including Benjamin Franklin, Henry Ward Beecher, and former British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.


In February, City Manager Mike Rock, with the support of three members of the Lakewood City Council, ordered that one of the ceramic pieces be removed from Lemke’s exhibit. The censored stone featured a quotation attributed to Bill Maher: “A real coward is someone who drops a bomb from a protected space several thousand feet up.”


Lemke, an Air Force veteran, has said that City officials misunderstood the “Hope Stones.” The exhibit is neither unpatriotic nor anti-military, she said, but is a piece “meant to encourage people to question and re-examine their feelings about war and peace.” The quotations show that that humans have questioned war throughout the history of civilization, she added.


"One of the beauties of a democratic society is the freedom we all have to express ourselves even if our viewpoints differ,” Lemke explained. “We don't all have to agree or even like what others have to say, but we each have the right to express that viewpoint. The arts are an especially important vehicle for this exchange of ideas. They encourage examination of issues, they present alternative ways of looking at things, and hopefully, make people more aware.”


“I’m very happy that the City of Lakewood has agreed to resolve this controversy without the need for legal action,” Silverstein said. “Lakewood officials have agreed to restore Ms. Lemke’s exhibit to its original condition and to write her a letter of apology.”


The “Hope Stones” piece, part of a three-artist exhibition titled “Conversations in Clay,” will remain on display at the Lakewood Cultural Center through March 25. The additional artists in the show are Caroline Douglas and Marie E.v.B. Gibbons.

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