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Your Guide to Speech Zones on University Campuses

Sarah Kramer
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Your Guide to Speech Zones on University Campuses

If you are attending a public university, chances are that there are speech policies in place on your campus. Speech zones are one such policy that might threaten your right to free speech on campus.

As you settle into a new semester, here is what you need to know about these policies and what you can do to help defend your right to speak freely.

What are speech zones and what is their purpose?

Speech zones are often a small, out-of-the-way area on campus that the university designates and advertises as an area where students can go to speak freely. But these policies actually restrict free speech. Often that “zone” is so small or so far removed from the heart of campus that it is an ineffective area for sharing one’s message. Other campuses dramatically limit free speech to certain times of the day or week by saying these zones are open only for a few hours a day. Others often give administrators a right to review and approve materials before they are disseminated. When campus officials stop a student from sharing his beliefs in a prominent spot on campus and insist that he move to a low- traffic area, they have likely violated the student’s freedom of speech and action should be taken.

How can students find out if their university has a speech zone?

Universities are likely to advertise their speech zones as “free speech areas.” Students can find these policies by asking the student activities office where a student group can hold an event on campus or where students can distribute literature on campus. These policies may also be found on the university’s website by searching for terms like “solicitation,” “literature,” “expression,” “speech,” and “time, place and manner.” ADF can also help students decipher whether their university has a speech zone.

What should students do if their university has a speech zone?

Speech zones are generally unconstitutional and violate your First Amendment right to freedom of speech. If a university’s student activities office denies permission for you to hold a free speech event outside of the speech zone, further action should be taken. ADF can offer assistance in contacting the school to address the issue.

Has ADF won any cases involving speech zones?

Yes! ADF has challenged several speech zones, including at Pennsylvania State University, Texas Tech University, Yuba College, and others. Often, when challenged, the university will revise its unconstitutional policies to allow for free speech. 

Speech Zones are Unconstitutional and Should be Challenged

Get more information about speech zones, speech codes, and other threats to free speech on campus.

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Sarah Kramer
Sarah Kramer
Digital Content Specialist
Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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