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Celebrities to dedicate monument

April 11th, 2006

By John Yellig

Local celebs will turn out next week to help dedicate the First Amendment Monument at the east end of the Downtown Mall.

Dave Matthews Band member Boyd Tinsley, novelist John Grisham and former Virginia Poet Laureate George Garrett will make opening remarks before Dahlia Lithwick, legal affairs reporter and commentator for Slate magazine and National Public Radio’s “Day to Day” program, delivers the keynote address.

Following the dedication, members of the public will get their first crack at writing on the Community Chalkboard, a large slab of Buckingham slate placed in front of City Hall.

The 42-foot by 7-foot chalkboard is one part of the monument, which also features a speaker’s podium and a smaller slab with an inscription of the First Amendment on one side and a quotation from Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall stressing the importance of the freedom of speech on the other.

The quotation states: “Above all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content. To permit the continued building of our politics and culture, and to assure self-fulfillment for each individual, our people are guaranteed the right to express any thought, free from government censorship.”


Dedication ceremony:

11 a.m., April 20, 2006

Thomas Jefferson Center For the Protection of Free Speech | TJ Center's Virtual Chalkboard

That quotation was selected by local high school students from among several choices, but because of the closeness of the vote, the runner-up quotation from poet John Milton will be inscribed on the front of the lectern: “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”

The monument, a project of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, has been in the works for 10 years, center Associate Director Josh Wheeler said.

The monument has garnered public interest, both because of its uniqueness - “This is the first of its kind,” according to Wheeler - and for the opportunity for profane scribblings on the chalkboard.

“While we anticipate there will be some of that, we think the examples of positive expression will so far outnumber the examples of offensive expression that the latter will be seen as the occasional annoyance,” Wheeler said.

The monument will be maintained by the Thomas Jefferson Center.

“No matter what’s on the monument, whether it’s the most beautiful drawing in the world or the most offensive statement, the monument will be wiped clean every Thursday. In addition to that, individual citizens can wipe the monument or any part of it clean at any time,” Wheeler said.

Contact John Yellig at (434) 978-7245 or

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