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Lawmaker pulls death-penalty art from Texas Capitol exhibit

By The Associated Press
03.15.07

AUSTIN, Texas — A state lawmaker removed two pieces of art from a Capitol exhibit organized by a group opposed to the death penalty because he said he found the images inappropriate and objectionable.

State Rep. Borris Miles, a Houston Democrat, took issue with a painting of a man hanging from a rope and an illustration of a man tied to an electric chair with the inscription "Doing God's Work."

"We should not prevent the display of art," Miles said on March 13. "But there have to be limits."

Miles said in an e-mail to his House colleagues that he encountered the images while walking through a hall of the Capitol Extension on March 12 with his children, ages 5 and 8.

"Capitol exhibits are supposed to serve a public purpose or be informational in nature. These pictures were hung with no accompanying text or explanation," Miles wrote.

The Texas Moratorium Network, which advocates a two-year moratorium on the death penalty, didn't violate any standards with the exhibit, said Scott Cobb, the group's president.

He said the purpose of the artwork, some of which was created by death-row inmates, was to call attention to the death penalty.

"Nobody has a right to take down what they don't like. (Miles) overreacted and should have gone through the proper channels" to remove the work, Cobb said.

Miles, who has talked with the State Preservation Board about his complaint, said a system should be put in place to screen exhibits.

The preservation board, caretaker of the Capitol, requires that exhibits in the Capitol serve a "public purpose" and have an elected official as a sponsor.

Spokeswoman Julie Fields said the preservation board does not "restrict or censor" exhibitions.

Miles delivered the pieces on March 13 to state Rep. Harold Dutton, another Houston Democrat, the sponsor of the exhibit.

Dutton questioned whether censoring objectionable artwork would defeat the purpose of allowing art displays. The moratorium group has agreed to Dutton's request to leave the pieces out of future displays.

"It doesn't bother me whether it's up or down," Dutton said.

Fields said she doesn't recall ever getting complaints about a Capitol display.

"This is a little overwhelming to us. We don't feel like it's our place to make decisions about what goes into a building or not," she said.


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