Mason Protects Student Rights

July 15, 2003

By Nicholas Zinzer at Broadside Online

Awareness of one’s rights on campus is both critical and beneficial. Students who are aware of the legal rights protecting them will be able to recognize when they are being taken advantage of and able to defend themselves accordingly. Religion plays a prominent role in many students’ lives and protecting the right to practice an individual’s religion is an important part of George Mason University’s policy. Numerous spiritual groups exist on campus and knowing how a student is protected is helpful. Most importantly, Mason cannot inhibit particular religious groups or advance any religious doctrine. Since Mason is a public institution, its actions are limited by the First Amendment. The Free Exercise and Establishment clauses protect individuals (including Mason students) from religious interference as well as from being forced to adhere to a specific religion.

Protection for spiritual beliefs are not limited to mainstream or traditional religious groups. Christians, Muslims and Jews are all entitled to the same rights as smaller religious organizations whose beliefs and practices differ from larger religious organizations. For example, religious groups which do not believe in one god must still be afforded the same protections as those that do. According to a publication by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, “[individuals] do not have to belong to a theistic religion to receive the protection of the religious clauses of the First Amendment; nor do you have to belong to an organized religious group.” In other words, those who do not believe in God are entitled to the same protections as those who do believe in God, theists. This applies to all religious groups on the campus.

Most, if not all, colleges have disciplinary proceedings. Mason has policies on topics ranging from academic dishonesty to sexual assault. Students are not arbitrarily tried and convicted of an offense; rather, there are established procedures. Since Mason is a public university, its disciplinary procedures are governed by the U.S. Constitution. This entitles students to the privileges of the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments, which assure no citizen is denied “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

In general, the more serious the offense is, the more rights to which a student is entitled. The first thing a student is entitled to be notified of is the charges filed against him. Knowing what he is being charged with allows an individual to adequately prepare a defense. Second, he is entitled to hear a description of the evidence mounted against him.

These protections provide legitimacy for the trial and potential punishment as well. Should a trial take place within Mason, the student has the right to have the case heard under regular procedures used for comparable cases. The panel deciding a student’s fate should also be impartial. These laws cannot be applied to every case, however. In cases regarding poor academic performance, these rules could be voided. The state is generally reluctant to second-guess the grading policies of instructors and the university as a whole.

Public institutions and private employers alike are prohibited from discriminating against an employee’s “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” which is based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Mason’s policy takes this one step further by barring discrimination based on veteran status, disability, sexual orientation and age as well. However, private employers have the right to discriminate based on certain aspects they feel would be detrimental to their business or work environment, such as sexual orientation, although that is uncommon

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Schools: George Mason University