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Federal Lawsuit Over Mandan Mural

Bismark Tribune

The city of Mandan will not enforce its law requiring citizens to apply for a permit to paint murals until a federal lawsuit over the matter is settled. The ordinance caused controversy this past spring, when it required the owners of Lonesome Dove bar to remove their mural depicting a cowboy during sunset after their application for a permit was denied three times. Owners, Brian Burbe and August Kersten, filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District of North Dakota against the city of Mandan on July 29th. Robert Frommer, attorney for the Institute of Justice representing Lonesome Dove, says this is a matter of the First Amendment.

“The reason that Mandan said that this couldn’t be a mural, couldn’t take advantage of all the rules for murals, was simply because it had the business’s name on it, simply because it said Lonesome Dove. According to Mandan that makes it a sign that they can regulate more heavily, but the first amendment doesn’t allow towns to pick and choose which messages are good and bad and to burden people or benefit them based on that.”

The city voted 4-1 on March 19 to order the mural be removed by August 1st or face $1000 a day in fines. Robert Frommer says art is constitutionally protected.

“There is decades of precedent making clear that murals as public art are protected by the first amendment. You don’t need the governments permission to paint your house, so why should you need to go get the governments permission to paint a picture on your house? It’s insane; and what the courts have repeatedly said is that local officials cannot place themselves in the position of being art critic by saying you can put up a mural that says ‘X’ but not ‘Y’ that’s for people to decide not bureaucrats.”

Until the lawsuit is settled, murals will not require a permit. The suit seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to allow Lonesome Dove to keep the artwork on the bar’s front wind block.


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