A judge in U.S. District Court in Bangor ruled Friday, April 22, that Gov. Paul LePage’s order to remove the labor history mural from the walls of the Maine Department of Labor did not violate the free speech clause of the First Amendment.

The court’s 45-page decision reasoned that, “messages from state-owned works of art are government speech and Maine political leaders… are entitled to select the views they want to express.”

“We are disappointed the court denied our request for a restraining order, but acknowledge that the standard for obtaining such relief is extraordinary,” said the plaintiffs’ counsel Jeffrey Neil Young of the law firm McTeague Higbee, in a press release.

He continued, “We appreciate but respectfully disagree with Judge Woodcock’s decision and are reviewing the options of where we go from here. We may have lost this preliminary skirmish in the court of law, but we already have won in the hearts and minds of Maine people.”

Young added, “This case transcended the courtroom. People from around the world responded to the governor’s decision to remove this mural from the Maine Department of Labor’s walls. The fact is, the people of Maine do not want to be told by the government what they can, and cannot, see.”

Attorney General William J. Schneider applauded the decision, stating: “We are pleased with this decision. Judge Woodcock correctly found that elected officials can and should express their views. This is as it should be because the voters of Maine therefore have a better idea what their elected officials stand for. The court agreed that it would be a dangerous precedent for a federal court to dictate how the state government should express its views.”

The court’s decision follows oral arguments April 19 on the motion for a temporary restraining order filed by six plaintiffs claiming the administration violated their first amendment rights by denying them access to view the mural.

“The thoroughness of the decision should put these issues to rest and make clear to the plaintiffs that the way to express their views is through the political rather than judicial processes,” remarked Deputy Attorney General Paul Stern, who argued on behalf of the administration.

The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the state April 1 and filed the temporary restraining order April 8 to compel LePage to return the mural to what they said is its proper place for public exhibit, at the Maine Department of Labor office in Augusta, according to Young’s statement.

The mural has been kept in an unknown location since March 26, when the governor ordered private workers to remove it during the weekend, and put it where it could not be viewed by the public, according to Young’s statement. The plaintiffs also asked the court to order LePage and the other defendants to reveal the location of the mural, and to ensure the mural is in good condition and is protected.

Woodcock will schedule a conference with attorneys Young, Jonathan Beal and Carol Garvan and defendants’ counsel to discuss where the case should proceed following this decision.

The plaintiffs are Don Berry, training director of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 567, of Sumner; John Newton, an industrial hygienist, of Portland; and three Maine artists: Robert Shetterly of Brooksville, Natasha Mayers of Whitefield, and Joan Braun of Weld. The sixth plaintiff is attorney Jonathan Beal of Portland, who requested a public hearing prior to the removal of the mural.