Man Upset Over Writings On Free Speech Monument

By: Whitney Holmes Email
By: Whitney Holmes Email

April 5, 2007

Every morning, with a water bottle and toilet brush in hand, Kevin Cox arrives at the Thurgood Marshall quote on the First Amendment Monument to erase the writings on the wall.

"Hate speech, racist slurs. I've found people's names and phone numbers with description of sex acts," Cox said of the inscriptions he's seen on the monument.

The monument is meant to exhibit and honor people's right to free speech by letting them exercise it.

The Justice Marshall engraving embodies this purpose. But each day, Cox says, Marshall's profound words are hidden behind others' profane ones.

"People are guaranteed the right to express any thought free from government censorship," Cox recited off the wall. "Now that is something people need to know. And you can't read it if it is covered up by inane graffiti."

So he erases it.

While some may argue that Cox is taking away people's right to freedom, he says he is not an enemy of the first amendment, he is an ardent supporter of it.

"I am a regular practitioner (of free speech). I make my mind known to the public as many people know and don't like actually."

Josh Wheeler of The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, the organization behind the creation of the wall, actually does like it.

He says, Cox is doing exactly what the wall is intended for.

"The monument was designed so that people could respond by either writing a response to it (offensive speech) or wiping it clean," explained Wheeler.

But what Wheeler does not agree with is Cox's perception of the writings on the wall. In Wheeler's view, it is actually surprising how little the amount of profanity there is.

"I have lost count at the amount of people who have expressed to us their amazement about how little the amount of profanity there is on the monument."

And, of course, Wheeler has the right to express his opinion just as much as Cox does.

Cox suggests putting a protective coating over the Marshall inscription. Wheeler says the Center left the inscription the way it is on purpose, but they have an advisory committee meeting to discuss if anything should be done to it, and if so, what.

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