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NOVA Supports Your Right to Free Speech

Northern Virginia Community College is committed to the free exchange of ideas and activities by its faculty, staff, and students

The U.S. Constitution protects many forms of “expressive activity” and in accordance, NOVA has developed a series of policies to protect the rights of its students, faculty, and staff. These policies provide guidance on permitted campus locations for expressive activity, as well as detail certain forms of restricted behavior and activities. NOVA policy also addresses visitors wishing to use campus facilities to engage in expressive activities. The links below will direct you to NOVA’s speech and expression policies.

NOVA encourages you to reach out to our designated officials to report an incident that you believe has disrupted your right to protected speech. The link to submit a report is below. If, after referring to NOVA’s policies and the below commonly asked questions, you are unsure whether such an event has taken place, please submit a question below.

Submit a Report

Frequently Asked Questions

The term “expressive activity” includes meetings and other group activities of students and student organizations, speeches, performances, demonstrations, rallies, vigils, the distribution of literature, and many other forms of expression protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.    

The U.S. Constitution protects most speech, with very limited exceptions. Protected speech can be profane, vulgar, offensive, inappropriate, or uncivil. However, conduct that substantially disrupts NOVA’s normal operations or infringes on someone else’s rights may be restricted.

Specifically unprotected speech includes:

  1. “Fighting Words”- personally abusive language that is likely to provoke a violent reaction
  2. True Threats- an intent to commit an act of violence against a particular individual or group of individuals
  3. Incitement of Imminent Unlawful Action- such action must be imminent and likely to produce such action by others who agree with the speaker, not those who disagree with speaker
  4. Obscenity- material of an extreme sexually graphic nature that portrays sexual conduct in a clearly offensive way, and taken as a whole, has no literary, artistic, political, or scientific value
  5. Defamation- false statements of fact intentionally made to harm another’s reputation
  6. Unlawful Harassment- conduct that is severe, persistent, and objectively offensive enough to limit one’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services NOVA provides

Sometimes, the actions that a speaker takes during an expressive activity are disruptive enough to allow a college to intervene, regardless of what is actually being expressed.  Permitted restrictions are different based on whether the expressive activity is taking place outdoors or in an indoor campus facility.

Requesting Space

Students, student organizations and NOVA employees who wish to reserve campus facilities for expressive activity should submit their requests to the Dean of Students.

Visitors wishing to engage in public speaking or distribution of literature on outdoor college property may do so in designated locations on each campus by contacting the Director of Campus Operations.

Qualified visitors who wish to reserve indoor campus facilities should submit their requests to the Dean of Students. Visitors must be sponsored by a recognized student organization or NOVA. Please see the NOVA Speech and Expression Policy for more details on visitors.

Permitted Restrictions

Outdoor Spaces

NOVA may place reasonable limits only on the time, place, and manner of your expressive activity. These limits must not depend on the content or viewpoint of the expressive activity. Students and student organizations may freely engage in spontaneous expressive activity as long as they do not:

  • Block access to campus buildings
  • Obstruct vehicular or pedestrian traffic
  • Substantially disrupt college operations, classes, or previously scheduled events
  • Create a clear and present threat to campus safety, according to the NOVA policy
  • Occur during college examination periods
  • Engage in unlawful activity

Indoor Campus Facilities

NOVA has not designated any indoor areas as available for spontaneous expressive activity. However, many facilities may be requested in advance. NOVA normally does not require more than two business days advance notice for reservation requests.

More notice may be required to allow for sufficient logistical support and to ensure the safety and security of the campus. You are encouraged to make your request as early as possible.

NOVA can refuse a reservation if the venue is already reserved for another event or if the activity will attract a crowd larger than the venue can safely contain.