Texas State University is a public institution that supports the free exchange of ideas which includes freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry, and freedom of dissent. Texas State respects the right of individuals to express their social and political views through all forms of legally protected speech, press, and assembly. Texas State upholds the First Amendment to the United States’ Constitution that states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The following frequently asked questions with answers are provided so that everyone has a better understanding of the elements of the First Amendment and free speech at Texas State.
What are the Texas State shared values?
In pursing the mission, the faculty, staff, and students of Texas State University, are guided by a shared collection of values:
- Teaching and learning based on research, student involvement, and the free exchange of ideas in a supportive environment;
- Research and creative activities that encompass the full range of academic disciplines-research with relevance, from the sciences to the arts, from the theoretical to the applied;
- The cultivation of character, integrity, honesty, civility, compassion, fairness, respect, and ethical behavior in all members of our university community;
- A diversity of people and ideas, a spirit of inclusiveness, a global perspective, and a sense of community as essential conditions for campus life;
- A commitment to service and leadership for the public good;
- Responsible stewardship of our resources and environment; and
- Continued reflection and evaluation to ensure that our strengths as a community always benefit those we serve.
What speech is NOT protected by the First Amendment?
The First Amendment does not protect violent, obscene, or defamatory speech. While examples are listed below, please be aware that this list is not exhaustive. This area of law is very fact based which means that courts will decide whether speech is protected on a case-by-case basis.
Violent Speech: Speech that incites people to engage in imminent illegal or criminal activity; invites dispute or causes unrest; consists of imminent threats of violence against a specific person or group; or advocates and steels people to action to overthrow of the government of the United States or of the State of Texas is not protected. So called “Hate Speech”- that is speech that is rude, personally or individually offensive, is constitutionally protected, unless it meets the definition of violent speech.
Obscenity: Speech or materials may be deemed obscene (and therefore unprotected) if the speech meets the following (extremely high) threshold: It (1) appeals to the “prurient” interest in sex, (2) is patently offensive by community standards and (3) lacks literary, scientific, or artistic value.
Defamation: An intentional and false statement about an individual that is publicly communicated in written (called “libel”) or spoken (called “slander”) form, causing injury to the individual.
Harassment: Conduct based on membership in a protected category that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victim’s educational experience or work environment, that the victim is effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities on any basis prohibited by law or policy, including but not limited to race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
Commercial speech: Speech that proposes a commercial transaction or relates solely to the speaker or audience’s economic interests. It receives less protection than political speech and is protected only if it is misleading and involves a lawful activity.
Where is free speech allowed at Texas State?
Free speech is allowed on all common outdoor grounds including university public land, streets, sidewalk, or other common outdoor areas on property owned or leased by Texas State.
This does not include residence halls, the inside of buildings or outdoor classrooms that are field based research and/or educational teaching areas
Has the U.S. Supreme Court permitted restrictions on protected speech?
Time, place, and manner restrictions are limitations on speech that are permissible provided they are:
- narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest; and,
- leave open ample alternative channels for communicating the speaker’s message
The right to speak on campus is not a right to speak at any time, at any place, and in any manner that a person wishes. The university can regulate where, when, and how speech occurs to ensure the functioning of the university and to achieve important goals, such as protecting public safety.
What is hate speech and what is a hate crime?
The United States Constitution protects what is commonly known as hate speech no matter how offensive its content. Generally, hate speech is any form of expression where the speaker's intent is to humiliate or incite hatred against a group or a class of individuals. According to the Supreme Court, we "must tolerate insulting, and even outrageous speech in order to provide adequate "breathing space" to the freedom protected by the First Amendment (Boos v Barry, 1988)
A hate crime is NOT protected by the constitution and it is a "criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's prejudice or bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity or other grounds". Hate crimes are overt acts that can include violence against persons, property, violation of civil rights, conspiracy, and acts of intimidation as described by the law.
What activities are not allowed during a demonstration?
University policy UPPS 07.04.07 provides relevant information to engage in free expression and lawful demonstration on university owned or leased property. The right to protest and demonstrate does not include the right to engage in conduct that disrupts the operations of the university or endangers the safety of others. For example, a group would not be able to stand outside a classroom building with bullhorns and sound amplification devices, thereby preventing any teaching from taking place inside the building.
Examples of activities that are not allowed are covered in the Code of Student Conduct, outlined in the Student Handbook, and include but are not limited to:
- committing an act that would constitute a criminal offense under state, federal or municipal law
- failing to comply with a directive from a university official, including a summons to the office of an administrative officer at a designated time
- endangering the health or safety of other persons, including, for example, throwing an object, without authorization, in or from university facilities
- interfering or disrupting university teaching, research or other activity, including administrative, disciplinary or public service activities
- endangering the physical or mental health or safety of any person or intentionally or recklessly causing injury to any person
- stealing, destroying, damaging or misusing the property of the university equipment or resources without authorization
How does Texas State help students stay safe during a free speech event or demonstration?
The Associate Director for Student Involvement in the LBJ Student Center with assistance from the Dean of Students Office will monitor free speech events or demonstrations that take place in common outdoor grounds in coordination with the University Police Department as necessary. Staff members from these offices are present at scheduled events and will make every effort to be present at unscheduled events once confirmed
What if I don’t feel safe at a free speech event or demonstration?
Texas State balances the commitment to free speech with a commitment to safety. If you feel physically threatened due to someone else’s expressive activity, call the University Police Department emergency number 911, or the non-emergency number (512) 245-2805. Individuals who threaten or commit acts of violence or other violations of law may be subject to arrest and prosecution by law enforcement. Individuals can call the Dean of Students Office, 512-245-2124 and may face disciplinary sanctions imposed by the Student Conduct and Community Standards Office at Texas State.
Is there a Texas State policy that addresses external speakers on campus?
At Texas State, the policy that addresses external speakers using university facilities is UPPS 07.04.04 External Speakers on Campus.
What is a “heckler’s veto”?
Texas State cannot prevent speech on the ground that it is likely to provoke a hostile response. The First Amendment requires the government to provide protection to all speakers, no matter how provocative their speech might be. This includes taking reasonable measures to ensure that speakers are able to safely and effectively address their audience, free from violence or censorship. It’s how our society ensures that the free exchange of ideas is uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.
Why does the university expend efforts to defend the free speech rights of white supremacists, and other bigots?
Free speech rights are indivisible. Restricting the speech of one group or individual jeopardizes everyone’s rights because the same laws or regulations used to silence bigots can be used to silence you. Conversely, laws that defend free speech for bigots can be used to defend civil rights workers, anti-war protestors, LGBTQIA activists, and others fighting for justice.
American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
Assembly Activities Involving Amplified Sound, Exhibits, &
Erecting Symbolic Structures
Demonstrations on University Property
External Speakers Using University Facilities
Posting/Distribution of Literature, Informational Booths, and Banners on Campus
Solicitation on Campus
Texas State Institutional Report