City Manager Orders Censorship of Chalkboard

Jefferson Muzzles Promoted on the Free Speech MonumentBack when the city established the free speech monument, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression—which commissioned and funded the slate wall in front of city hall—made quite clear to the city that they must never, ever erase anything from it, because doing so would be an unconstitutional violation of individual’s right to free expression. Unfortunately, new city manager Maurice Jones apparently quite literally didn’t get the memo, because he recently ordered city staff to erase a drawing from the wall, Dave McNair writes for The Hook.

Local poet, musician, and all around great guy Browning Porter provided the following astute comment on The Hook’s website:

The free speech wall is a beautiful, ingenious monument to one of the cornerstones of democracy. When the weather is nice I take my two small children down there regularly to write and draw on it. They get a chance to be creative and learn something about civics at the same time. We bring our own chalk and rags and spray bottles full of water and we “go to town” literally and figuratively.

I can’t remember ever having seen anything on the wall that I needed to shield them from, and — given the limitations of the medium — it’s hard to imagine that I would. Stick figures in obscene postures? Dirty words? In my experience, they are far more likely to see these in bathroom stalls than on the free speech monument, and worst case, I get an opportunity to be there to give them some context or guidance. If, as a private citizen, you object to something you see there, you can express your objection yourself with one swipe with a chunk of chalk, conveniently provided.

This particular instance of censorship is hilarious. How can anyone even tell what that thing is? You have to have a dirty mind to recognize it as anything dirty. I asked my son what he thought it was, and he said “a rainbow apple.” So there you go. I think it looks a bit like a cross section of a bell pepper myself.

I am sure that there are more objectionable images and phrases from time to time, but that is the price we pay for free expression. Until you understand this, you understand nothing.

The city has waded into a legal morass with this unfortunate move. Either they need to immediately establish a policy making clear that under no circumstances are city staff to erase anything from the chalkboard, or they need to tear down the chalkboard and admit that free expression is more than Mr. Jefferson’s town can handle.

55 Responses to “City Manager Orders Censorship of Chalkboard”


  • As I’ve read and listened to the news coming from Egypt and the rest of the Middle East in the past few days, I’ve often wondered how locals in similar positions would behave. From Jones’s example it seems as those in power would do as those in power always do, petty dictatorship such as his being no less repugnant than its more pretentious forms. One can only hope that those further from official power might here as in the Middle East be bold enough in their masses to demand change for the better.

    Free from sin? I’m certainly not, but I will be the first to cast a stone. Jones needs to go.

  • Jones rocks!

  • The “cult of personality”, a.k.a. Saint Maurice blew the call. Throw in the challenge flag. After further review, the city is charged for a time-out.

  • Uh oh! We might have to talk to our children about something other than sippy cups and pink elephants. The shame!

    Good grief, Charlottesville. Lighten up. We’re all naked under there, might as well go ahead and tell your kids that now.

  • It is also a form of free speech to remove things from the chalk board. To me the solution is clear, the city needs to provide an easy way for citizens to not only write on the board, but also remove things from the board.

    In this case the city didn’t willy nilly remove something, they responded to a citizens request to remove it, and because there is no functional way for that citizen to remove it the city did it on their behalf.

    If they don’t have the ability to keep spay bottles and rags out there, they should at least be a sign indicating that they can be gotten from city hall. That way it isn’t our oppressive government that it stomping on my ability to draw a penis on the board, it is another citizen.

  • Those of us opposed to letting Maurice call the shots for this community had reasons the rest will discover as time goes by.

    A background for carrying out orders is not the background for issuing them. Have you looked at his?

  • “there is no functional way for that citizen to remove it”–that’s just not true. You can use your hands to rub something off a chalkboard. you can use your shirt. you can go get an eraser. now, you could say those are inconvenient ways to remove it, or that a citizen should not HAVE to remove it, but it’s just wrong to say that there is no functional way to remove it (i’m not even sure what functional means in this context, unless it means “easy”).

    even if a citizen called in a complaint, in my HO it was still wrong of the government to remove it. what if a racist citizen called in a complaint that someone had written MLK Rules, RELee Drools? is the simple fact that a complaint came from a citizen sufficient cause for the government to remove? clearly not, so please don’t adduce the fact that a citizen called in the complaint as sufficient cause for the government to remove it.

    i’ve read Kevin Cox’s complaints that the chalkboard isn’t promoting reasoned free speech or admirable free speech, it’s simply allowing pottymouth to run rampant. he’s mostly right that pottymouth is running rampant–but in my HO that’s not the chalkboard’s fault, it’s our fault. if we as a society are no better than that, then i’m all in favor of a way to view the sad state of our society on a daily basis.

  • DEFINTION: A cult of personality arises when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods, to create an idealized and heroic public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.

  • I was wondering why I hadn’t seen a picture of the offensive image anywhere, and now I realize that I had—it’s just so abstract that I couldn’t recognize it. It’s this. No wonder nobody erased it.

    What a lot of fuss over absolutely nothing.

  • @cecil: Maybe I should have said removing things from the wall should be just as easy as adding them. I work by the wall, so i am there at least 5 days a week for work. It is not a realistic thing for me to use my hand (which doesn’t really work) or my shirt to remove something from the board.

    So are you against the city providing something that allows citizens from easily removing things from the board? To me this gets around all of the problems, and makes the board much more functional.

    Another question, what if city employees erased things on their lunch break or in a other non-official capacity? Is Kevin Cox never allowed to touch the board because of his position?

    The racist or any other citizen should absolutely be able to have the city remove things on their behalf. That is the only way that free speech works. My bigger question is what would this city do if someone wrote “the Holocaust didn’t happen”, or racist comments on the board, could the city remove those?

  • In this case if any empolyee wanted to do this it’s OK but if they are directed to do so then it’s wrong.

    Is the solution to just have any city employee understand that they can get rid of anything they want but just not overtly direct them to do so?

    Workers are still citizen and haven’t lost their rights either.

  • The city doesn’t provide the chalk, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression does. As such, why should the city have any obligation to provide something to remove the chalk?

  • @Noah: I am sorry, i was under the impression that the city provided the chalk. Why would the TJC not provide the second half of this equation?

    Am i missing something, or is this just plain sense? Frankly the time the city has already put into this costs more then the cost to keep a rag out there, i would even donate a set or rags.

  • @Logan–I’m not aware that Kevin Cox works for the city, but I definitely could be wrong about that.

    If someone wrote racist comments/”the holocaust is a lie” (I’m fairly sure someone has already done that), the city absolutely SHOULD NOT erase those comments. how is that even a question?

  • I do not work for the city. I have cleaned off the part of the chalkboard that has the engravings of the First Amendment and the quote from Thurgood Marshall. I did this to make the engraving legible not because the content of the “expressions” offended me. I have never removed anything else from the chalkboard and I never will.
    Cordially,
    Kevin Cox

  • Maurice Jones’ real fault here is that he allowed himself to fall into a trap laid for him by a petulant citizen with an ulterior motive. Maurice is known for his responsiveness to the citizenry and when this citizen complained about a graphic image on the wall, Maurice responded by having the image removed. Rather than showing a little class and thanking Maurice, that citizen then turned around and went to his friends at the Hook to tattle on Maurice because ultimately that citizen did not want the *images* removed, he wants the *wall* removed. Maurice should have just ignored the guy and I suspect that’s precisely what he will do in the future.

  • The Real Story,
    I did not exactly complain about the image. I did send it to the City Council and I think Maurice was also a recipient of that email.
    When I found out that the image had been removed I thought that Maurice had probably gotten the approval of the TJ Center. Here’s the text from the email that went with the pic.
    ” Some time ago I was cleaning off the engraving of The First Amendment on the chalkboard. I attracted the attention of The board of The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and they met to discuss the possibility of protecting the engraving from chalk graffiti. Protection would make it possible to read the words and help educate people about the First Amendment. After they met, Josh Wheeler contacted me and told me that the board decided it was important to leave it exposed to the graffiti because that would demonstrate tolerance. It doesn’t demonstrate tolerance. It demonstrates stubborn pride and an unwillingness to acknowledge the truth. The truth is that the monument is not meeting any of the noble goals set for it by the TJ Center. It’s a failure in design, use and management. I hope that someday the TJ Center will recognize this and use the experience to create a monument that really does educate and provide a forum for meaningful expression.

    The attached photo was made this morning, 2-10-2011.
    Cordially,

    Regardless, you are right, I do want the chalkboard removed and replaced with something that really does teach people what Free Expression means and has meant to this country. The chalkboard may be fun but it’s a squandered opportunity.

    Cordialy,
    Kevin Cox

  • Thanks for explaining that Ric. Like I said, “rookie move”.

  • @ The Real Story

    Maurice is far better known for his lack of qualifications for the job than for “his responsiveness to the citizenry.” His misstep in this situation is all the more troubling because his only academic qualification for the management position he was given is a degree in communications of all things.

    The most important idea that Jones should have learned while earning that degree and perhaps the only one relevant to his current job is the idea that the government has no business interfering with the free expression of either the media or the general public. Jones has failed at the one thing he is on paper at least qualified to do.

    It is certainly possible that Jones was taught what’s right but was corrupted by his stint as city propaganda man where he no doubt learned the value of careful control over information and the art of spin. If that’s what is on display now, then I am even less inclined to have him as my city manager than I was when he was handed his undeserved appointment. It’s far past time we had real leadership for this once great little city rather than a specialist in smoke and mirrors at the helm.

  • Isn’t the wall going to be replaced with the clock? The renderings of the clock looked like it would be in that spot.

  • Wall’s not going anywhere, Coops.

  • Whoa, I thought I was tough. You can be “the boss of me” anytime. I already know what the other boss is like.

  • Just as a sidebar to the above appointment comment, in contrast, it looks like our old friend Rochelle Small-Toney isn’t being recieved with open arms in her quest for city manager as Mr. Jones was. If she doesn’t get it, maybe she can come back to C’ville. Her old job is now open.

    http://savannahnow.com/news/2011-02-16/small-toney-becomes-lone-city-manager-candidate

  • failing to see the issue

    “What a lot of fuss over absolutely nothing.”

    It certainly is. The ability of this town’s citizenry to rile itself up over absolutely nothing is stunning.

    So some scrawl was washed away after a citizen’s complaint. Somehow I think our republic will survive.

  • the lesbian avenger

    a government erected stone phallus is ok but a citizen’s elegant v-day paean to the power of the pussy must be obliterated. telling. the patriarchy’s days are numbered though. and this revolution WILL be televised.

  • OK, so if I felt the need to remove something from the chalkboard for whatever reason and don’t want to use my hand or shirt: I would go to the public restrooms downstairs in the bus station and dampen some clean toilet paper which I would then use to clean the item and then dispose of the paper in the nearest trashcan. Surely the city goverment has more pressing issues?
    I actually don’t admire the board’s aesthetics but, as long as it is there as a free speech venue, the local government should leave it alone as much as possible.

  • That’s a great name for a new super-hero: The Lesbian Avenger. I wonder what her super powers would be?

  • You know, I always liked Maurice Jones. I was rooting for him to get the City Manager job. However, he owes Charlottesville an apology for this. If it happens again then I think he should be removed from his job.

    If Kevin Cox wants to walk up to the Chalkboard and draw over something offensive, nobody is stopping him. Dude should stop whining to other people to deal with his personal issues. Its like that one kid we all knew in first grade who would go whine to the teacher every time someone said a dirty word. Kevin should just be a man about it. But for Maurice to use his position of official power to remove expression from the designated free speech monument is a whole other thing. I find that pretty close to inexcusable.

  • Again, I did not complain about the nature of the image and I am not cleaning anything off of that board. I was surprised when I saw that the drawing had been removed. I thought that someone had probably gotten permission from the TJ Center to remove it. I sent the image to the City Council with a comment about my efforts to get the TJ Center to keep the text of the First Amendment legible. I am going to continue to exercise my rights and speak out. I do hope the board is removed and replaced with a monument that doesn’t trivialize free speech and is interactive and educational. It’s a tough challenge and this silly, fun chalkboard isn’t up to the job.
    Cordially,
    Kevin Cox

  • Kevin: I’m curious — what would your ideal interactive free speech monument look like? In what way would it be interactive?

  • Janis,
    I just got back from an overnight camping trip and I’m kind of tired so bear with me.

    I don’t know what an ideal interactive monument would look like. I do think it should incorporate the internet and other contemporary modes of expression. Access to information from the internet is fueling the dramatic rush to freedom we’re witnessing right now in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere. Freedom of expression helped create the electronic information explosion and the First Amendment laid the foundation.

    The history of free speech also ought to be a component of the monument. People do need to learn how important freedom of expression has been and what happens when it is abused. Nixon would never have resigned if it hadn’t been for a free press. The downfall of the tyrant Joseph McCarthy was influenced significantly by Edward Murrow. Murrow would have been silenced if the government controlled the media. Even so, artistic expression was supressed my McCarthy and the First Amendment abused in his witch hunt. The Hollywood blacklist should never be forgotten.

    I think that if the monument was all it really could be we wouldn’t be talking about drawings of genitals and obscene graffiti. People would be so involved with substance that trivia would fade.

    Cordially,
    Kevin Cox

  • I think that if the monument was all it really could be we wouldn’t be talking about drawings of genitals and obscene graffiti. People would be so involved with substance that trivia would fade.

    No, I think that’s entirely wrong. Let’s try replacing the word “monument” with “the First Amendment”:

    I think that if the First Amendment was all it really could be we wouldn’t be talking about drawings of genitals and obscene graffiti. People would be so involved with substance that trivia would fade.

    Yeah, I’m pretty sure that means that what you said isn’t true. Free expression means that people have the power to say stupid things, and people get excited by stupid things. Playboy and The National Enquirer sell a whole lot more copies than The New York Review of Books. That doesn’t mean that free expression (or Charlottesville’s monument to it) has failed—it just means that human nature continues to be human nature.

  • Waldo,
    I used to talk regularly with Charlotte Humphris about various housing and land use issues in Albemarle County. We usually disagreed but she was right about one thing. Once while we are debating I used an analogy and she stopped me and explained carefully what was wrong with that particular comparison and why analogies are generally a poor tool to use in debating. Mrs. Humphris was an intelligent articulate person. I believe that she had been a teacher. I will always value the lesson she gave me.

    I know that people have the power to say stupid things. You changed the meaning of what I wrote and then you said that what I wrote was wrong. The monument is not synonymous with the First Amendment. The chalkboard may be intended to symbolize the First Amendment but there’s much more to the use, history and definition of the First Amendment right of free expression than that chalkboard comes close to representing. I never said that the First Amendment was a failure.

    I think that a monument to the First Amendment right of free expression can and should be much more than that chalkboard is. The chalkboard is a poor representation of what the First Amendment has meant in the past and continues to mean in today’s world.
    Cordially,
    Kevin Cox

  • Analogy was good enough for Socrates.

  • I know that people have the power to say stupid things. You changed the meaning of what I wrote and then you said that what I wrote was wrong. The monument is not synonymous with the First Amendment. The chalkboard may be intended to symbolize the First Amendment but there’s much more to the use, history and definition of the First Amendment right of free expression than that chalkboard comes close to representing. I never said that the First Amendment was a failure.

    And, luckily, I didn’t say that you did. But analogies have a powerful ability to allow people to see familiar circumstances in a new light. In this case, what’s quite clear is that your complaint is not with the First Amendment Monument—it’s with the First Amendment itself.

  • Waldo,
    Your claim to know that I am unhappy with the First Amendment is bizarre. My complaint is with the monument. It is my complaint, after all. But If you want to believe that I don’t like the First Amendment or that I want it changed I can’t stop you. Please explain to me what my complaint with the First Amendment is.

    I do believe that the city shouldn’t clean off the monument and I have never asked them to clean it. I was very surprised that the city had removed the drawing. I do not want the government to have the authority to censor speech that is protected by the First Amendment.

    Cordially,
    Kevin Cox

  • Kevin, I’m not speaking for Waldo, of course, but it does seem to me that you like only the noble expressions associated with the First Amendment. The First Amendment has enabled many a “rush to freedom” and has brought down tyrants, but it’s also allowed Nazis to march through predominantly Jewish neighborhoods. It lets people say things that are not merely controversial but also really horrific and morally repulsive. It also protects a lot of what some people would call obscenity and profanity. I run into college students all the time (in my line of work) who had no idea how many objectionable expressions are in fact protected; they seem to have never heard the principle that the First Amendment MUST protect even speech deemed offensive by large groups. Though I’m not saying that I think the chalkboad is all that a monument to free speech could be, I think it’s important for people to realize that speech that seems impolite or offensive is protected–that we are, in fact, “allowed” to write “the Holocaust is a lie” on the chalkboard, that our government has no business erasing certain of our utterances but not others. If Logan (above) didn’t know that, it seems the chalkboard could be doing some good.

  • “I did not exactly complain about the image. I did send it to the City Council and I think Maurice was also a recipient of that email.”

    “I do believe that the city shouldn’t clean off the monument and I have never asked them to clean it. I was very surprised that the city had removed the drawing.”

    So why, exactly, did you send City Council & City Manager a copy of the image? What text was attached to the image? Cordially or not, you seem to be inviting trouble. Or interference. Or something. So dish, please. You just wanted to make trouble for the monument but not for free speech itself? Exactly how thin is that line? How big is the tempest in a teapot? How many stakeholders can dance on the head of a pin? And for how long?

    Cordially,
    Barbara Myer

  • Barbara,
    Below is the entire text of the email I sent with the picture of the “flower”. Incidentally, this is the second time I’ve posted this in this thread. The previous week I had sent them similar pictures that were on the brick. Those had been cleaned off by the city, as is the city’s right. I was curious to see what response, if any, I might get back. Again, I did not expect the “flower” to be removed and I didn’t ask for it to be removed.

    I am considering going to a meeting of City Council and reading some of what has been written on the wall. It would be interesting to test their tolerance of what is written for all to see on the wall.

    My goal is to encourage discussion that will bring about the replacement or remodeling of the monument into something that does a very good job of creating an interactive educational monument to freedom of expression.

    Here’s what I wrote: “Some time ago I was cleaning off the engraving of The First Amendment on the chalkboard. I attracted the attention of The board of The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and they met to discuss the possibility of protecting the engraving from chalk graffiti. Protection would make it possible to read the words and help educate people about the First Amendment. After they met, Josh Wheeler contacted me and told me that the board decided it was important to leave it exposed to the graffiti because that would demonstrate tolerance. It doesn’t demonstrate tolerance. It demonstrates stubborn pride and an unwillingness to acknowledge the truth. The truth is that the monument is not meeting any of the noble goals set for it by the TJ Center. It’s a failure in design, use and management. I hope that someday the TJ Center will recognize this and use the experience to create a monument that really does educate and provide a forum for meaningful expression.

    The attached photo was made this morning, 2-10-2011.
    Cordially,
    Kevin Cox”

  • Cecil,
    I don’t like some things people say and draw but that doesn’t mean that I want them suppressed. I can tolerate offensive language and images. I have tolerated things on that board that were crude insults directed at me personally. My toilet brush and water were at hand but I didn’t erase what was written because it wasn’t obscuring the text of the First Amendment. I cleaned off the engravings to make them legible. Actually the rule that people are free to erase or alter anything they want to on the board has always bothered me. Warning: If you ask me why, I will write even more.

    I would expect an interactive monument to free expression to allow any protected speech. I’d also hope it would do more to teach and to provide a better forum for more detailed dialog and expression than the cleft slate of the chalkboard allows. It should also be moderated. Lies, libel, incitements to violence and other speech that is not protected by the First Amendment should be censored. It will upset some to read this, but there are things that the public is justified in expecting the government to censor.

    Again, I was surprised that the “flower” was removed. It didn’t look like anything that was legally subject to censorship to me.

    I believe that Edward R. Murrow was probably in the minority when he spoke out against Joseph McCarthy. Many people, maybe a majority, supported McCarthy and his anti-communist witch hunt. Murrow exercised his rights, changed public opinion and brought down McCarthy. Cecil, I understand that the First Amendment that permitted Murrow to speak out and that it also protects neo-Nazis. I believe they are entitled to be heard, not because I want to hear them but because of the need to stand by the principles of free speech.

    I do appreciate this exchange. It helps me to more clearly define my own intuitive discomfort with the chalkboard as a monument.

    Sincerely,
    Kevin Cox

  • A point of possible irony: the chalkboard allows only a fleeting life for the words and images Kevin finds so troubling; they get erased or written over by other citizens, or the whole thing gets its twice-weekly wipe-down. And yet Kevin, by recording and photographing the words and images he finds troubling, gives them a longer life than they would have otherwise. I’d never have seen the flower if it weren’t for Kevin; hundreds of citizens who didn’t happen to be at the right place at the right time would never have seen that image. It’s like Kevin is taking things that left alone would get maybe 15 minutes of fame and giving them days and days of fame. Kevin, it’s like you’re working overtime to stoke the outrage machine: “look look look at THIS naughty image and THESE naughty words, see, I took pictures of them and wrote them down in my notebook…what? no, they’re probably not still on the chalkboard, they’re probably gone by now, but look look look at them in my notebook!” I mean, yeah, if you went to a city council meeting and read every naughty utterance ever written on the chalkboard, it would seem shocking, but would you really be replicating what the chalkboard is?

  • Your claim to know that I am unhappy with the First Amendment is bizarre. My complaint is with the monument. It is my complaint, after all. But If you want to believe that I don’t like the First Amendment or that I want it changed I can’t stop you. Please explain to me what my complaint with the First Amendment is.

    If I claimed to love a hearty plate of spaghetti and meatballs, but also said that I despise noodles, cream sauce, red sauce, oregano, basil, and meat, then a reasonable person would conclude that I am, in fact, no fan of spaghetti.

    Your complaint about the monument is that people can express themselves in ways you do not like. That’s free expression that you’re unhappy with.

  • Waldo,
    I can be unhappy with the content of what people say and still accept their right to say it AND defend their right to say it and I do. Speech isn’t spaghetti. Your analogy is a good example of what Mrs. Humphris was talking about when she criticized analogies. Even so, I can still dislike spaghetti and accept your right to eat it.
    This is tedious but I’ll stay with it if you still don’t understand the difference between disliking what someone says and wanting to silence them.

    My complaint is not with the content but rather the poor design, use and management of the monument.

    I think you just want to see things in very simplistic, black and white tones. Free Speech is complex. It’s not defined just by the words of the First Amendment but by years of court judgements and social changes. It’s a lot more complex and interesting than the chalkboard.
    Sincerely,
    Kevin Cox

  • Cecil,
    I think it’s ironic that supporters of a monument to the First Amendment look to the intolerance of the public for reassurance that “expressions” they don’t like will be removed.

    Regards,
    Kevin Cox

  • Hm, Kevin, I think you kind of misinterpreted what I was saying. And I’m also starting to think that I’ve been trying engage thoughtfully on this issue with a different kind of person entirely.

  • Kevin: Just a random thought, but if you are “considering going to a meeting of City Council and reading some of what has been written on the wall”, then why not give everyone a preview of that – right here, right now?

    Waldo appears to be a firm believer in the First Amendment. Why not post some of what’s been written on the Monument via Waldo’s site. If it’s okay to post on the Monument, then it should be okay to post here too. Right?

    Just my 2 cents . . .

  • Cecil,
    When the design and use of the board was originally being discussed there was concern about offensive speech being posted. The solution offered was to allow the public to censor or change any speech they didn’t like. Your comment brought this to mind. I always have disliked the notion that the public has the right to censor the expressions of others on the chalkboard because it doesn’t represent the reality of speech in America. Where else can a private citizen interfere with another citizen’s private speech and silence or censor them? No newspaper, web page, forum etc, routinely allows people to dictate content. Well, accept for the Virtual Chalkboard. It’s one more reason that I think the chalkboard is a lousy interactive representation of free speech in America.

    My feeling was that if the city council couldn’t accept offensive but protected speech without reassurance that it would be erased, than they shouldn’t have approved it. I will never forget city Councilor Meredith Richards’ comment at that time. She said, “Well I guess I’ll always have to carry an eraser.”
    Regards,
    Kevin Cox

  • Frank,
    Your observation that what’s good enough for the monument should be good enough for Waldo’s page is the point that I want to make by reading the comments at a City Council meeting.

    I do have pictures of some of the worst and I’m thinking of reading them to the Councilors. I probably won’t do it though. There are horrible calls for the murder of racial minorities using terrible racial epithets, ads for sex with names and phone numbers, degrading, sexual comments about women and personal, profane insults using people’s names. I don’t really want that language coming out of my mouth.

    Sincerely,
    Kevin Cox

  • Kevin: Thanks for the comments. I appreciate your perspective. I’d don’t think that I would want to actually repeat some of those things either.

    To Everyone: In reading through all these comments, I still struggle to understand exactly what the First Amendment violation is when the City washes/removes some (or all) of the expressions contained on the Monument.

    There has been a great deal of discussion of censorship. However, I equate the concept of censorship with “prevention” of expression. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the City is not “preventing” anything. If the City washes something, isn’t a person still free to go back the following day, and put the same thing back up? If so, then where’s the First Amendment violation.

    Honestly, it appears to me that everyone is inferring a degree of “maintenance” to the First Amendment that simply is not there. Freedom of Speech is distinctly different from “maintenance of speech”. There is no First Amendment protection for the “maintenance of speech”. As long as the City is not “preventing” speech in the first place, if or when the City chooses to wash the Monument may be irrelevant.

    However, allow me to take this argument and thought process one step further.

    One could argue that if the City has chosen to basically “outsource” the “cleaning” of its Monument to a third party, the “Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression” (I assume), then the City may be in violation of Virginia law.

    Here is my thought process:

    Regardless of the funding source of the Monument, the City established the Monument. Thus the City established a methodology for the public to provide publically posted commentary and expression.

    Thus, one could assert that each commentary/expression included on the Monument is a “public record”. “Public Records” are governed by the Virginia Public Records Act (“PRA”). The expressions included on the Monument appear to be covered by the PRA’s definition of a “Public Record”, which includes: “recorded information that documents a transaction or activity by or with any public officer, agency or employee of an agency. Regardless of physical form or characteristic, the recorded information is a public record if it is produced, collected, received or retained in pursuance of law or in connection with the transaction of public business. The medium upon which such information is recorded has no bearing on the determination of whether the recording is a public record.”

    By creating the Monument in the first place, the City created a “connection with the transaction of public business”, and thus the expressions contained on the Monument itself are all “Public Records”. Therefore, it is the City, and not the “Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression”, that is responsible for the appropriate destruction of applicable “Public Records”.

    Any thoughts on this argument? Perhaps it’s a bit farfetched, but maybe worth a discussion.

  • Frank,
    The city did not “outsource” the cleaning of “it’s” monument nor did the city establish the monument. The monument was created by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and they own it. The city just rents them the land it sits on for a small fee, a dollar a year I think.

    Confusion over the ownership of the chalkboard is common. Many people seem to think it is publically owned. It was also funded privately. No tax revenue went towards it, as far as I know. If it was owned by the government I think that censorship, cleaning, editing, etc., by the government would be legal.

    Your thinking is creative but I still believe that the removal of any protected speech from that chalkboard by anyone acting as a representative of any government agency is a violation of the First Amendment. Once removed an expression cannot be returned to be there during the time that the person who put it there intended it to be. A court may agree with you, but I don’t.

    The relevant language for the first amendment is “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…” That’s pretty broad and I think it covers the work of censors as well as the suppression of existing speech. A government sponsored book burning would be an abridgement of the freedom of speech. Erasing someone’s crude “flower” drawing is an abridgement of their rights to express themselves when they want to.

    Sincerely,
    Kevin Cox

  • Waldo appears to be a firm believer in the First Amendment. Why not post some of what’s been written on the Monument via Waldo’s site. If it’s okay to post on the Monument, then it should be okay to post here too. Right?

    Although odds are very good that would be fine (if you’ve been reading my site for long, you’ll know that I’m pretty tolerant here), I have to note that you’re lacking an essential distinction in this amusing suggestion: the First Amendment limits governments, not individuals. This server is private property—I’m free to limit people for any reason (or no reason) whatsoever. The city, on the other hand, may not discriminate on the basis of content. If they’re going to put up a bulletin board in City Hall, they’re as obliged to permit a poster promoting a KKK rally as they are one promoting a scouting group’s bake sale.

  • I am confused. Doesn’t the government regulate, edit and censor the news on government owned radio, television and internet media? Isn’t the First Amendment all about the government regulating private speech? I do think that if a bulletin board is intended to be open to all citizens than it should be open to all protected speech. Still, I thought that the government can regulate what the government owns and maintains. I think this is one very good reason to keep the government out of the ownership and funding of the news media.
    Cordially,
    Kevin Cox

  • Waldo: I very much appreciate your comment and I also very much appreciate the fact that you have this (privately supported) forum for discussion.

    The bulletin board example is also a good one. However, if the City’s bulletin board had a regularly schedule removal procedure (like all fliers, regardless of source, are revomed weekly), then there would be no First Amendment issue. Correct? Everyone would be treated equally.

    Kevin: I very much appreciate your comments as well. Interesting point regarding the “rental” concept; I was simply going off the initial sentence detailed in Waldo’s posting (above), which states “the city established the free speech monument”. If the City is only renting land, and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression actually established the Monument, then I see the point you are trying to make (although I, respectfully, think this point may be irrelevant – see below).

    The “abridging” example is also a good one. By limiting the removal to only one item, then it could be argued that the City is abridging that one person’s Freedom of Speech. I can see that point of view as well. However, if the City had a regularly scheduled daily cleaning/removal session for the Monument (as the City regularly cleans other rented parts of the Downtown Mall on a daily basis), then no person’s individual rights would be abridged (everyone would be treated equally). Hence, no First Amendment issue. Right?

    Another interesting legal argument, even in a “rental” situation, is that the City has still engaged in a scenario where potential public records have been produced in connection with the transaction of public business. The fact that a third party is involved, in a rental situation, may be irrelevant. I can think of other examples of third party involvment in the creation, transmission and storage of public records – internet connectivity and server storage for example.

    Regardless of ownership of the Monument, the City has set up a methodology for public comment directly in front of City Hall. It seems quite logical that some of that comment might be (properly) directed at the City in particular. If so, then the City may an obligation, under the PRA, to somehow memorialize any applicable “Public Records” created via the Monument.

    An example: Let’s say that someone crafts a letter to the City Manager that is physically on the Monument.

    The Library of Virginia (“LVA”) serves as the duly appointed administrative body of the PRA. The LVA sets up record retention schedules surrounding the destruction of Public Records. LVA General Schedule #4 – Series #010006 entitled “Correspondence/Subject Files – City Manager/County Administrator”) calls for “incoming and outgoing letters, memoranda, faxes, notes, and their attachments, in any physical format including, but not limited to, paper and e-mail” to be “Retain permanently in locality”.

    I want to particularly point out this includes “incoming” letters in “any physical format”. Hence, any “letter to the City Manager” (even if it is physically written on the Monument) cannot be destroyed per the PRA. Those incoming letters (or, I’m assuming, an approved duplication of those letters) cannot be destroyed without violating Virginia law.

    I realize that I’m talking a bit out of both sides of my mouth, but what I’m getting at here is that I do not see how the City cannot be involved in the cleaning of the Monument. It seems logical that, at a minimum, the City’s LVA-certified Public Records Officer should be present when the Monument is cleaned (maybe they are – I really don’t know). Appropriate documentation of any applicable “Public Record” should be properly memorialized before the only available version of the Public Record is destroyed.

    What I find interesting here is that the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression may be facilitating the improper destruction of Public Records. If true, then that is particularly ironic. Can the Center give themselves a “Muzzle” Award?

  • Here an interesting video of a recent speech by our Secretary of State about freedom of expression.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-Vy8fFnz18

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