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Free Speech Monument Opens

By: Elizabeth Donatelli
By: Elizabeth Donatelli

April 20, 2006

For aspiring artists, political activists, or people who just want to get something off their chest, there's a new monument opening today just for you.

There's been construction for months, but Thursday the Thomas Jefferson Center is pulling off the tarps and opening up the Thomas Jefferson Center's Community Chalk Board and First Amendment Monument.

There are words and pictures representing neighborhoods, expressions of hope, feelings of outrage and things vulgar--but they can be written and said under protection of the First Amendment.

"Given Charlottesville's historic connection to the founding fathers and to the founding of this country, it just seems entirely appropriate that Charlottesville be the location of the first First Amendment Monument," said Josh Wheeler of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

The tarps will be removed later this morning and people can write whatever they want on the chalkboard--but people can also erase whatever they want.

"The First Amendment is a limit on government restrictions on our speech. It doesn't at all apply to individual private acts, " said Wheeler.

Some critics, however, think erasing is a form of censoring

"To say that intolerance and censorship is an acceptable part of that concept is an abomination," said Kevin Cox who is against the monument the way it is.

The $250,000 wall will have fresh chalk in place be erased every Thursday by The Center. Opponents say after the initial burst people will forget about it and it will eventually be removed

"We will end up with a small portion that will be an odd, bizarre, little monument to bad design and good intentions," said Cox.

However, proponents hope to see it expand to other cities.

"We're hoping to franchise it perhaps in the future," said Cox.

There's also a podium for people to stand on which they can use as a modern day soapbox to address the public both for scheduled meetings or impromptu speech. Thursday morning at 11 a.m. is the official dedication and opening of the wall. It will include guest speakers like John Grisham and Boyd Tinsley.


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