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Free Speech and Freedom of Expression

Among George Mason University’s greatest strengths are the diversity of its community members and their many viewpoints.  At Mason, we honor the freedom of thought and expression. We understand that an environment where different views can be expressed is an essential component of any great place of higher learning.

What is Free Speech at Mason?

Read Our First Amendment Statement

What is Freedom of Expression at Mason?

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.

What is “hate speech”? Is it illegal?

The term “hate speech” does not have a legal definition in the United States, but there are times when speech is considered to be hate speech – speech that attacks a person or group on basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity. This includes the use of social media in expressing such views.  While the university condemns speech of this kind, there is no “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment.

Even though there is a First Amendment right to say something doesn’t mean that it should be said. The First Amendment protects a right to say hateful things, but as a campus we strive to be a community where everyone chooses to express care for members of our Mason community and never choose to express hate.

FAQs

Where can free speech occur on campus?

The establishment of Free Speech Zones on any campus is unconstitutional and in violation of specific Virginia Laws at campuses a part of the Commonwealth. Often, here at Mason, the area in the North Plaza (near the clock tower) is used as a popular location for free speech to occur.  As a reminder, Mason is providing the location for free speech to occur, but the content of the speech and the event itself are not sponsored by the University. 

I believe my free speech has been disrupted, what can I do?

One of the ways we honor our motto “Freedom and Learning” is by serving as a marketplace for ideas. This means Mason will not hinder its members from the ability to engage in free speech and express ideas and viewpoints, including those considered unpopular and that conflict with the values of our university. If you feel that you First Amendments right were impaired, then you have the right to report this to the University through the Free Speech complaint form.

What if I become the target of, or witness, a hate crime or hate-motivated act? How can I report it?

Students, staff, faculty, and visitors are encouraged to immediately report a specific incident or act of intolerance, hate, harassment or exclusion through the bias incident reporting form.