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What Is a Free Speech Zone?

January 6, 2021

The term “free speech zone” sounds positive, like a place where the freedom of speech receives extra protection. But that’s not the reality.

Many colleges and universities set aside an area as a so-called free speech zone and designate it as the only place on campus where students and faculty can exercise their First Amendment rights. That means that on the rest of campus, speech is limited or even prohibited.

But the freedom of speech isn’t like a virus that needs to be quarantined to prevent it from spreading. Nor is it like a piece of art that needs to be roped off in a museum and only admired but never used.

It’s a God-given right to be enjoyed by every individual. And it’s a right that is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

If you’re a student at a public university, the outdoor areas of campus are basically like a public park set aside for your use. You have broad freedom to use these open, outdoor areas to express yourself. So, you could say that the First Amendment declares all of these areas, not just a few picked by administrators, to be your free speech zone.

Of course, universities can put some restrictions on speech in these areas. But such parameters must be content- and viewpoint-neutral, must serve at least a substantial government purpose, cannot be too broad, and cannot have the effect of completely silencing someone.

So what substantial interest does it serve when campus officials designate certain outdoor areas as the only places where students can exercise their right to speak? None. But the effect on free speech is obvious.

at odds with the current progressive orthodoxy at so many public colleges today.

This goes against the purpose of an institution of higher learning, which is to educate and expand young minds. Instead of fostering the free exchange of ideas, a free speech zone makes it difficult for students and groups to speak. This violates their constitutional rights.

Just ask Chike Uzuegbunam.

When Chike was a student at Georgia Gwinnett College, he wanted to talk about his Christian faith with other interested students. First, campus officials told him he had to get advanced permission and reserve one of two tiny speech zones on campus that were only open 10 percent of the week.

How big were these zones? The two areas comprised less than 0.0015 percent of campus. So if the campus were a football field, these two zones combined would be the size of a piece of copy paper.

But even when Chike got permission, reserved a time in one of the zones, and went there to speak, campus officials stopped him from speaking again!

Chike is far from the only student whose freedom of speech has been violated by a so-called free speech zone. Alliance Defending Freedom has represented many students and student groups who have run into the same problem.

Thankfully, the ADF Center for Academic Freedom has a 100% success rate in challenging these unfair and unconstitutional zones.


You can read more about some of our client’s stories below.


Chike Uzuegbunam

Turning Point USA, Grand Valley State

Ratio Christi, University of Colorado

Brittany Mirelez

Alliance Defending Freedom

Alliance Defending Freedom

Non-profit organization

Alliance Defending Freedom advocates for your right to freely live out your faith

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