Free Speech at Mason: Educational Resources

Some students, faculty and staff incorrectly call the area around clock tower in Mason’s Johnson Center’s North Plaza a Free Speech Zone, perpetuating a popular myth. However, establishing Free Speech Zones on any campus is unconstitutional and in violation of specific Virginia Laws.

Free speech protections on campus are governed by the following documents:

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The First Amendment of the Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” (Source: http://constitution.laws.com/1st-amendment)

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House Bill 258 Higher Educational Institutions; restrictions on student speech, limitations.

SUMMARY AS INTRODUCED:  Restrictions on student speech at institutions of higher education; limitations. Prohibits public institutions of higher education from imposing restrictions on the time, place, and manner of student speech that occurs in the outdoor areas of the institution’s campus and is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution unless the restrictions (i) are reasonable, (ii) are justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech, (iii) are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and (iv) leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.

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Mason’s STATEMENT ON FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: 

George Mason University believes that through active participation in an intellectually and culturally diverse learning community, students will be better prepared to deal with the issues they will face in a rapidly changing and diverse society.

In the presentation of ideas, the University encourages a balanced approach and respect for contrary points of view. Being open to the ideas and opinions of other members of the community will lead to discussion that is characterized by courtesy, mutual respect, and charity.

Congruent with these ideas is the principle that all members of the George Mason University community enjoy the right to freedom of speech and expression.

The right to free speech and expression does not include unlawful activity or activity which endangers or threatens to endanger the safety or well-being of any member of the community. Further, it does not include any activity which materially interferes with the education or well-being of other students or the mission of the institution.

It is expected that members of the community will actively participate in programs and activities of the University and will support efforts to foster the identified values of the community. All members of the community are expected to abide by local, state, federal, and international laws.

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Virginia Administration Code

Volume 26, Issue 13, Virginia Register of Regulations, March 1, 2010

GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY

Summary: This action repeals the current space use regulation and promulgates a new space use regulation to incorporate university policies within designated areas. The only change made to the regulation since publication of the proposed regulation was grammatical.

CHAPTER 31- SPACE USE

8VAC35-31-10. Scope. This chapter applies to all George Mason University faculty, staff, students, university contractors, and the general public.

8VAC35-31-20. Policy statement. George Mason University facilities are intended primarily for the use of its students, faculty, and staff in their efforts to advance the educational mission of the university. No use shall be permitted that is inconsistent with the mission of the university.

8VAC35-31-30. Definitions. The following words and terms when used in this chapter shall have the following meanings unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:

“Educational enclave” means that portion of university property in academic buildings, administrative office buildings, student residence buildings, dining facilities, athletic facilities,[ or] child care facilities [ ,;] or that portion of university property in use for university-sponsored or university-sanctioned sporting, entertainment, or educational events.

“University property” means any property owned, leased, or controlled by George Mason University.

8VAC35-31-40. Entry upon, and use of, university property:  

  1. Entry upon, or use of, university property in the educational enclave shall be in accord with all applicable university policies.
  2. Entry upon, or use of, university property outside the educational enclave for noncommercial purposes is permitted if otherwise lawful and does not interfere with educational functions.
  3. Entry upon, or use of, university property for commercial purposes shall be in accord with all applicable university policies.

8VAC35-31-50. Persons lawfully in charge:  In addition to individuals authorized by university policy, George Mason University police officers are lawfully in charge for the purposes of forbidding entry upon or remaining upon university property in violation of this regulation.