The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression


Organizational Description:

The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression is devoted solely to the defense of free expression. While its charge is sharply focused, the Center’s mission is broad. It is as concerned with the musician as with the mass media, with the painter as with the publisher, and as much with the sculptor as the editor. Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Center enjoys close ties to the University of Virginia, but is an autonomous, not-for-profit entity.

Services Provided:

Since its founding in 1990, the Center has fulfilled its mission through a wide range of programs in education and the arts, and active participation in judicial matters involving free expression (most often in the form of friend of the court legal briefs). The Center’s director, Robert M. O’Neil, is a nationally recognized expert on matters involving the First Amendment and academic freedom and serves as a resource for members of the media and general public on questions involving either of these areas.

In 2006, the Center completed construction on The Community Chalkboard and Podium: A Monument to the First Amendment. Located in the public plaza outside Charlottesville’s City Hall, this unique monument includes a 104 slate chalkboard on which visitors may express themselves on any topic. The design also includes a podium from which a speaker may address planned or impromptu public gatherings. The Center is currently exploring the possibility of constructing the monument in other localities.

The Jefferson Muzzles

Each year on or near April 13 (the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson) the Center focuses national attention on especially egregious or ridiculous affronts to free expression by awarding Jefferson Muzzles to responsible individuals or organizations. The Center also recognizes those who have shown extraordinary devotion to the principles of free expression through its William J. Brennan, Jr., Award. The Center welcomes nominees for both of these programs from the general public.

Primary Issues of Focus:

The Center is devoted solely to the protection of the First Amendment rights of free speech and free press; matters involving the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment are beyond the Center’s mission.

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