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Capitol Fundraiser

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Want a better way to leave your mark on Richmond history than scrawling your initials in the bathroom stall at the Poe Museum?

The Virginia Capitol Foundation, in the midst of a fundraising campaign aimed at restoring the Capitol Square grounds, wants you to buy a brick. Each of the $250 bricks — 4,000 of them are for sale — will become part of the brick-paved footpaths that meander through the Capitol grounds.

"It's Mr. Jefferson's Capitol," says Alice Lynch, executive director of the foundation, who encourages donors to take the third president's words literally: For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead.

Actually, that's the one rub with the fundraiser, Lynch admits. Truth and its opposite — or for that matter any subjective expression of opinion — will be banned from the brick's messages. Permitted are first names and surnames only, Lynch says.

"However well-intentioned or poetic or inspiring someone may see a statement, we have said no because we felt like we should limit it to objective things," Lynch says. "We wanted to set standards that hopefully everyone could live with, because then we wouldn't have to wrestle with what's offensive."

The rules, predictably, have already spurred some complaints from would-be donors, who, we hope, haven't resorted to carving up toilet stalls. Lynch says she's logged about a half-dozen gripers, unhappy that their free speech was being restrained.

And what of free speech? This is, after all, Mr. Jefferson's Capitol. What would he think of the foundation's censorship?

"Hmmm, that's interesting," Lynch says. "But I'm not the Jefferson scholar who could answer it."

So we called one.

Woody Holton, a Jefferson scholar at the University of Richmond who also happens to be the son of former Gov. Linwood Holton and brother-in-law to Gov. Tim Kaine, says Jefferson was somewhat brief in his own statements recorded in stone.

Would he be opposed to the brick censorship?

"I can tell you right now it would be a poser for him, because it would put his aesthetics — which were quite stark — in opposition to his belief in free speech," Holton says. "He would find it distasteful to put those names on there — but then he was never very good with money. He died deep in debt." S

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