A real estate developer sued the city of New Orleans on Tuesday for ordering him to remove an anti-Donald Trump mural depicting the president’s lewd comments about women.
Neal Morris said in the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, that the city is violating his free speech rights by asking him to go through a long and expensive permit process.
The mural on the side of a commercial building at 3521 S. Liberty St. uses pictograms to depict Trump’s comments, made during a 2005 taping of the TV show “Access Hollywood,” that became a center of controversy during the 2016 presidential election.
“When you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything ... grab them by the p----,” Trump said.
Morris told the Uptown Messenger in November that he hoped the mural — which depicts a woman’s nude torso and a cat — would spark a conversation about what counts as offensive.
“There’s nothing about the art that’s intended to satisfy the prurient interest,” Morris said. “What’s offensive is that this is what the president of the United States thinks about actual women.”
Morris said he had the mural painted by artist Cashy D on Nov. 4. Within a week, the city sent him a letter claiming that the mural violated the comprehensive zoning ordinance.
“Please remove the mural on the fence,” the letter said. It threatened a fine or jail time if he failed to do so.
Yet the section of the city code cited in the letter does not exist, Morris said. His letter the same month asking for clarification received no response, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says that a separate part of the city code requiring murals to receive advance approval from the City Planning Commission, the Design Advisory Committee, the “Board of Murals” and the City Council violates free speech rights.
There is no timeline for the approval process and no guidelines that prevent the city from denying a $500 permit for political reasons, the lawsuit claims. Meanwhile, Morris and the ACLU said they could not find any information about the Board of Murals, including who sits on it and when it meets.
The lawsuit also alleges that the city displayed a double standard by letting a mural by Yoko Ono go up on the side of the Ogden Museum in November without a permit.
Morris is seeking an injunction barring the city from enforcing the mural ordinance, as well as attorneys’ fees.