Free speech and expression under the First Amendment
College should be a place where people feel free to share their ideas and opinions without fear of retaliation, restraint, or interference. But there can be confusion about exactly what constitutes free speech. Here are answers to some of the questions you may have about expressing yourself in public areas.
A: The U.S. Constitution protects free speech and expression in public forums. As a public college, Belmont College is legally required to let people speak on sidewalks and other open areas of campus. That doesn’t mean the College agrees with or endorses what is being said.
A: Most forms of expression are protected, even if it is considered offensive or hateful. Activities on campus such as speech, distributing information, or displaying signs, may be subject to reasonable limits as to the time, place, and manner of the activities (such as prohibiting excessive noise that disrupts learning in the classroom and activity that impedes vehicle or pedestrian traffic). The College takes safety very seriously. If altercations occur, police will ensure everyone’s safety. Freedom of speech and expression doesn’t protect violent or criminal behavior.
A: Hateful or offensive speech is protected by the Constitution in the same way popular or uncontroversial speech is protected. Free speech does not include speech directed at a specific person that is likely to provoke the average person to violence.
A: If you’re able to stop listening and walk away, it’s unlikely that a court would determine a person’s speech, expression or demonstration meets the legal definition of harassment.
A: . If there is ever a threat to anyone’s safety, contact 911 immediately. Some people may
be seeking negative attention or trying to anger those around them. If their behavior is
ignored, these people will often leave.
- If a person’s speech, expression, or demonstration upsets you, remember you may always
move to another location.
- Remember that Belmont College students and employees are held to a higher standard of
conduct and civility than visitors.