Gov. Paul LePage’s administration exercised its right to “government speech” last month when it removed a labor-themed mural from the state Department of Labor’s headquarters in Augusta, Maine’s attorney general said Monday.

In a document filed in U.S. District Court, Attorney General William Schneider said a lawsuit that seeks to have the mural returned to its original location presents a political, not legal, issue on “where the government speaks.”

The prior administration spoke when it chose to display the mural, and the current administration spoke by having it removed, Schneider wrote.

“Plaintiffs strongly agree with the ‘speech’ of a prior administration by means of the exhibition of a work of art in a particular government building, and disagree with the ‘speech’ of the present administration by not exhibiting that work of art at that particular government building,” he wrote in an objection to a motion seeking a temporary restraining order aimed at returning the mural to the Department of Labor’s lobby.

LePage caused an uproar and made headlines nationwide by ordering the removal of the 11-panel mural depicting scenes from Maine’s labor history.

He also ordered the renaming of conference rooms named for labor organizers in the department’s headquarters. The rooms are to be named for mountains, counties or something else perceived as neutral. They have yet to be renamed.

The mural was installed in 2008, when John Baldacci was governor. LePage, who became governor in January, said it’s biased in favor of organized labor at the expense of business interests.

The mural’s removal has sparked opposition rallies and a federal lawsuit that was filed on behalf of three artists, an organized labor representative, a workplace safety official and a lawyer.

The lawsuit seeks to confirm the mural’s current location, ensure that it’s adequately preserved and restore it to the Department of Labor’s lobby.

Jeffrey Young, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that when government bans speech because of its viewpoint, then the government speech doctrine doesn’t apply.

“The government speech doctrine is a narrow exception to the First Amendment free-speech clause, and we don’t think this fits the exception because the governor’s decision to remove the mural was based on his disagreement with its content,” Young said. “If the governor had said, ‘I don’t like this mural because it’s all black and gray and I’d like to see pretty reds and greens in it,’ he could probably do it. But that’s not what he said.”

Attorneys for the two sides are scheduled to make oral arguments at 10 a.m. April 19 at U.S. District Court in Bangor.