Free Speech on Campus
Free Speech and the First Amendment
Updated: January 20, 2009
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits the government from suppressing the speech of individuals, groups and organizations. This allows for the rich, varied discussions that are key elements of American democratic society. It also forbids the government from stopping hateful speech, even when it finds that speech to be undesirable. In contrast, speech that is criminal in nature, such as harassment, threats or intimidation, is not protected by the First Amendment and is not permitted in society in any context, including on university campuses.
The First Amendment applies only to government entities, not private entities, such as private businesses. However, some states, such as California, have extended the First Amendment protections to private universities as well. Thus, depending on your state, the extent to which a university can regulate speech often depends upon whether it is a public or private institution.