For students, a recent change to the speech code at JMU, means they can speak freely and openly in class and around campus. The change led to recognition by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a national nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia, Pa.

JMU's free speech rating was updated to "green light" rating earlier this month, indicating the highest level of free speech. The change from a "yellow light" to a "green light" rating came about after recent changes to JMU's speech code J26-103, which is held under J26-100, the Personal Abuse Code.

The organization began working with students on speech-code reform at JMU shortly after the College of William & Mary earned their green light rating in 2009, according to an article on FIRE's website about JMU's change.

Josh Bacon, director of Judicial Affairs, believes the code's new wording makes it more clear that JMU values open communication and freedom of speech, as long as students are respectful of each others' opinions.

"Students need to follow community standards and continue to remain civil in classroom and campus interactions," Bacon said in an email.

The code formerly read, "No student shall direct expressions that can be reasonably anticipated to provoke a violent reaction from an individual or group of individuals at anyone."

The word "provoke" has been replaced with the word "incite."

For students on campus, the effects of the change will be limited. Bacon said freedom of speech has not been an issue for JMU in the past, and ought not to be in the future.

The change was suggested by a student, according to Bacon.

In the email, Bacon said Judicial "had never charged a student with this violation based on provoking a violent reaction."

FIRE was founded in 1998 by Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silvergate after their book, "The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses," was published.

FIRE is conducting eight different projects promoting student and faculty rights on campuses across the nation, such as the Free Speech on Campus Project and the Freedom of Association on Campus Project.

JMU is one of only 15 universities identified by FIRE as green light schools. Virginia leads the nation with three green light institutions: the College of William & Mary, the University of Virginia and JMU, according to the article on FIRE's website.

Also according to the article, FIRE is working with Virginia Tech, which has a yellow light rating, and George Mason University, which has a red light rating.

George Mason University earned a red light rating due to its harassment policy, which an article on FIRE's website said could be abused for purposes of censorship.

Robert Roberts, political science professor, disagrees with FIRE highlighting JMU's recent speech code change.

He said FIRE described the issue of schools stifling students as freedom of speech, which is protected under the First Amendment.

"The First Amendment is about protecting political speech," Roberts said. "There's nothing in the code change that deals with political speech. It is about the social interactions between students."

Robert McArthur, a junior integrated science and technology major, had a few reservations about the change.

"It's good for people to be able to discuss whatever they want to, but I hope people remain respectful to each other," McArthur said.

Senior Christina DiMarino said she hasn't run into any such situations.

DiMarino, an engineering major, said she has, "never really experienced any disrespect among students."

But both she and McArthur agreed that students should be able to speak their minds and share new perspectives.

And according to FIRE's mission statement, that's exactly what it seeks to promote. Along with freedom of speech, FIRE supports "legal equality, due process, religious liberty and sanctity of conscience - the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity."

For more information on FIRE visit its website at thefire.org.

contact Zachary Mehan at mehanzm@dukes.jmu.edu.