James Madison University is a public institution committed to protecting and promoting the freedom of speech guaranteed by the United States Constitution as well as the Constitution of Virginia and applicable Virginia law. The university values creating robust conversation and debate, listening to and learning from opposing views, and growing in our understanding as enlightened citizens. JMU’s campus is also public property and, subject to lawful time, place, and manner restrictions, is largely open for citizens to exercise their right freedom of speech (see JMU Policy 1121). JMU is deeply committed to upholding a welcoming and inclusive campus environment for all students, staff, and visitors to express a diversity of ideas, beliefs, and viewpoints, while reminding members of the JMU and surrounding communities that freedom of speech carries important individual responsibilities, as well.

Want to learn more about your free speech rights at JMU? See our FAQ.

Virginia Council of Presidents' Statement on Free Speech

"As presidents of Virginia’s public colleges and universities, we unequivocally support free expression and viewpoint diversity on our campuses. Free expression is the fundamental basis for both academic freedom and for effective teaching and learning inside and outside the classroom. Our member universities and colleges are bound to uphold the First Amendment. We are committed to promoting this constitutional freedom through robust statements and policies that are formulated through shared governance processes and through actions that reflect and reinforce this core foundation of education. We value a scholarly environment that is supported by a diversity of research and intellectual perspectives among our faculty and staff. We pledge to promote and uphold inclusivity, academic freedom, free expression, and an environment that promotes civil discourse across differences. We will protect these principles when others seek to restrict them."

Free Speech Events:

New and Transfer Student Orientation: Freedom of Expression and Speech

As an institution named after the father of the constitution, James Madison University requires new students to attend and engage in “Freedom of Expression & Speech”, a one-hour program designed for incoming James Madison University students to explore and celebrate the concept of free speech, its importance, and the opportunities it presents in academic settings. This interactive and engaging session aims to foster deeper understanding of the principles of free speech and expression, encourage open dialogue, and create brave space for diverse opinions to flourish.

Past Events:
  • 10/4/2022 - Free Speech and Our Democracy
    Join us for lunch and a discussion with Mr. Jonathan Alger (President, James Madison University) and Dr. Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill (Director, Campus Free Expression Project, Bipartisan Policy Center)
  • Join us from 2 - 3 p.m. for any of the upcoming virtual events. 
    • Jan 24, 2023 - Public Speech/Speakers
    • Feb 7, 2023 - Political Activities; Demonstrations; Solicitation
    • Feb 21, 2023 - Personal Safety and Security; Weapons and Explosives
    • March 31, 2023 - Discrimination and Harrassment; Personal Code of Conduct
    • April 4, 2023 - Facilities and Grounds Use; Temporary Structures

    Learn more about the Freedom of Expression series

  • February 9, 2023 | 4:00 p.m. | Taylor 405

    Dr. Hrishikesh Joshi, Assistant Professor
    Department of Philosophy
    Bowling Green State University

View the image gallery below for photos from the Free Speech and Our Democracy event held on Oct. 4, 2022.

Free Speech FAQ
  • JMU official policy defines academic freedom as "The liberty to pursue, discuss, study, research, discover, question, critique, and teach relevant knowledge, ideas and theory, in accordance with the standards of the academic profession and academic disciplines."
  • Students (5.3)
    • Students are public citizens and therefore have constitutionally protected rights of expression. 
    • The university supports the academic freedom of its students. 
    • The students rights are outlined in the student handbook
      • Student Handbook: “The student, as a citizen, has the rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of political beliefs and freedom from personal force and violence, threats of violence and personal abuse. In keeping with the right to freedom of speech, the University has adopted policy 1121 that fully describes this right and how to file complaints if the student feels freedom of speech rights have been violated.”
    • Students speech in the classroom is subject to disruptive behavior policies: https://www.jmu.edu/syllabus/faculty-syllabi-resources.shtml#Disruptive
  • Faculty and Staff
    • Faculty members and staff are public citizens and therefore have constitutionally protected rights of expression. (5.2) 
    • A faculty member who is acting in the course and scope of their employment at the university is protected by the tenets of academic freedom as long as such action is performed in good faith and in a manner consistent with their responsibilities. A faculty member who is speaking or writing on matters of public concern is not subject to university censorship or discipline (Faculty Handbook, section III.A.2).
    • Employees must abide by all rules concerning an employee’s expression on behalf of the institution, and is to identify when the employee is speaking as a private citizen, rather than on behalf of the institution. (5.6)
  • Religious or Political Organizations:
    • To the extent allowed by state and federal law, a religious or political student organization may determine that ordering the organization's internal affairs, selecting the organization's leaders and members, defining the organization's doctrines, and resolving the organization's disputes are in furtherance of the organization's religious or political mission and that only persons committed to that mission should conduct such activities.
    • No public institution of higher education that has granted recognition of and access to any student organization or group shall discriminate against any such student organization or group that exercises its rights. (VA Code § 23.1-400)
  • Non-Religious or Political Organizations: the free speech guidelines for students in the section above apply to all univeristy-affiliated organizations.
  • Protest is a constitutionally-protected act of civic engagement. 
  • Assemblies not located on university property are not covered by JMU’s free speech policy.
  • The university may prohibit or shut down an assembly, demonstration, or speaker in circumstances where it determines that the safe and orderly operation of the university will be disrupted by the event, based on the facts known to the institution at the time. If an event is prohibited or shut down by the institution for safety or operational reasons, the university will attempt to provide an opportunity for the speaker or group to reschedule, or to provide alternative space for the event, if possible. The university will not censor or punish any public, constitutionally protected expression simply because a person or group finds it offensive. The university may prohibit, stop or impose sanctions for conduct that is not protected under this policy or the law, whether or not such conduct disrupts the safe and orderly operation of the institution. (5.5h)
  • Invited speakers:
    • Inviting experts to speak on campus is a central part of how we carry out our mission as a university.
    • Speakers invited to give talks on campus (whether online or in person) are public citizens and governed by JMU’s Public Expression on Campus policy and any specific contractual agreements that are a part of their invitation to campus.
    • Speakers who are invited to make presentations on campus by the institution are public citizens, and while they are on campus, they are guests, and are bound by the terms of university policy and agreements concerning their invitations to speak.
    • “Individual students, non-university-related individuals and organizations may rent space for a speaker to make a presentation on campus, as provided in the university rules for rental of university space.” (6.2) 
  • Uninvited speakers:
    • JMU is a public institution bound to uphold freedom of speech by the constitution and Virginia law. JMU is also public property, and JMU does not have the authority to remove any people or groups from campus unless they have violated the JMU freedom of expression policy outlined in JMU Policy 1121.

As a community that values the free exchange of ideas, it is inevitable that ideas of different members will conflict. We always enourage respectful debate and discussion whenever there are differences of viewpoints or opinions. If you are concerned about particular speech that offends you, a few approaches might be to:

  • Ignore the speech.
  • Extend charity and seek to understand prior to responding.
  • Peacefully express/share your differing viewpoint during the event.
  • Plan ways to address the offending speech.
  • No public institution of higher education shall impose 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:
    • are reasonable,
    • are justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech,
    • are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, 
    • leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information. (VA Code § 23.1-401)
  • Any individual or group whose constitutionally-protected speech on campus has been disrupted may file a report of such an incident with the office of the appropriate vice president overseeing the activity, event, or venue. The university may sanction any person who is found to have disrupted the expression of an individual or group under the terms of this policy. (6.3)
  • Annually by December 1, the Legal Services Office will report to the Governor and General Assembly any lawsuits initiated against the institution or an employee of the institution, based on an alleged violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and such report will be updated within 30 days of any new complaint. (6.4)
  • A student journalist has the right to exercise freedom of speech and the press in univeristy-sponsored student media, including determining the news and opinion content of university-sponsored student media, regardless of whether the media is supported financially by the governing board of the institution, supported through the use of campus facilities, or produced in conjunction with a course in which the student is enrolled.
  • No student journalist has the right to exercise freedom of speech or the press in university-sponsored student media when such media:
1. Is libelous or slanderous;
2. Constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy;
3. Violates federal or state law; 
  • No student journalist has the right to exercise freedom of speech or the press in university-sponsored student media when such media incites students as to create a clear and present danger of an unlawful act, the violation of university policy, or the material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the university.
  • No student media adviser shall be dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned, or transferred for taking reasonable and appropriate action to protect a student journalist who engages in conduct that is protected  or refusing to infringe on conduct by a student journalist that is protected. 

Code of Virginia § 23.1-401.2. Student journalists; freedom of speech and the press.

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