McMasters on the Free Speech Controversy at George Mason University
October 24, 2005
Late last month, a junior sociology major at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., silently stationed himself near a military recruiters’ table on campus. The student, Tariq Khan, is a Pakistani-American and a four-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He held literature and wore a sign stating, “Recruiters lie. Don’t be deceived.”The recruiters, naturally, were not happy. Some bystanders weren’t either. Words were exchanged. Campus police arrived, Tariq Khan was unable to produce identification, a scuffle ensued, and the student, bruised and bloodied, according to one news account, was taken to jail. He will appear in court on Nov. 14 on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and trespassing.The article goes on to note similar cases have been reported at half a dozen other campuses. FIRE is and has been looking into these cases.
The university has investigated the incident that resulted in the arrest of a George Mason student on campus three weeks ago. Statements from numerous witnesses, police officers and Johnson Center officials have been reviewed during this process.
In light of the results of the investigation, the university believes it would be inappropriate for this student to be prosecuted in a criminal court. Although aspects of this matter could have been handled differently, the investigation has not revealed facts that would corroborate allegations of bias on the part of university officials. Students involved in the incident are being referred to the Dean of Students.
The university has embarked upon a thorough review of all policies and procedures pertaining to leafleting, demonstrations and other activities associated with free speech, with a goal of providing a safe and secure campus environment that preserves the rights of all those in the George Mason University community to express their view.
[An] officer who showed up asked Khan for identification. He did not have any on him. Walsch said that the Johnson Center is open to the public, and Khan was not required to carry identification. When Khan refused to leave or produce identification, the officer went for the cuffs.At that point, Khan says he “walked” backward, while Michael Lynch, chief of the university police department, says he ran away. “He was told to turn around and put his hands behind his back,” Lynch said. “Had he done that, it would have been something similar to Cindy Sheehan or other peaceful protesters making a statement and getting arrested.” Witnesses said that Khan ended up face down with a center staff member and an officer restraining and handcuffing him. “A police officer put him in a headlock, and he was trying to get away while repeating loudly, ‘I’m not violent, I haven’t done anything wrong,’” recalled Aimee Wells, a student who saw the incident.Khan was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, and trespassing, for his refusal to leave the building when asked.
One-hundred and twenty-nine faculty members signed an open letter that read that “no one non-violently exercising his/her right to free speech, blocking no flow of traffic…should ever be ordered to move from a public space.”