Why, you may ask, does the fine staff at FIRE spend its days hunting down unconstitutional speech codes and disputing unjust university policies? Unjust university policies, as it turns out, lead to actual violations of students’ constitutional and human rights. As today’s press release shows, such policies at George Mason University (GMU) led to the September arrest of a peaceful protestor, even though he was the victim of a not-so-peaceful assault by a fellow student.
GMU gained notoriety earlier this fall when student and Air Force veteran Tariq Khan objected to military recruiting at GMU by standing next to a recruiting table while wearing a sign that read “Recruiters Lie, Don’t Be Deceived” and passing out handbills. Less than a half hour after his protest began, a student assaulted Khan. University security responded to the ensuing scuffle by arresting Khan, who was ushered away from the scene.
Even though peaceful protests and pamphleteering are as American as apple pie and George Mason himself, GMU has several policies on its books that render Khan’s actions punishable. GMU Policy 1110 limits the distribution of products, including newspapers, while GMU Policy 1109 states that “[n]o information or advertising will be posted that is inconsistent with the educational mission of the University or that has not received prior authorization in accordance with this policy.”
GMU has responded to FIRE’s demands that they revise their unconstitutional policies by promising that the university “reiterates its deep commitment to the freedom of speech” and that GMU has “launched a review of all of its policies on the use of public space.” Khan is now in the clear, as his case rests soundly in the able hands of the Virginia ACLU. FIRE, however, has challenged GMU to move with lightning speed in rewriting its unconstitutional policies. As FIRE President David French said in today’s press release, “Every day that GMU maintains these policies, it infringes on students’ fundamental rights.”