What is Freedom of Speech?

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from passing laws that abridge the freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is the right of persons or groups to express opinions and ideas with limited government interference, restrictions or censorship. The term “speech” constitutes expression that includes far more than just written and spoken words. It also includes what a person does not say (the right not to speak), as well as what a person wears, reads, performs, protests and more.

What is Freedom of Expression?

Freedom of expression is a wider constitutional concept and encompasses not just freedom of speech, but also a free press, freedom of association, and the freedom to assemble and petition the government. With a few narrow exceptions, freedom of expression is the right of individuals and groups to say and publish what they like either directly or symbolically through actions, to form clubs and groups, and to demonstrate against the government, for example through rallies or protests.

What is a "Campus Expressive Activity" as referenced in the FAQs?

A “Campus Expressive Activity” is a freedom of speech or expression activity that is otherwise covered in University Policy 11.12 / Use of University Campus for Free Expression Activities.

What types of speech are not protected by the First Amendment?

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech by default, placing the burden on the government to demonstrate whether there are any circumstances that justify its limitation. There are certain types of speech that are not protected by the First Amendment. These types of speech may be regulated by the University:

  • Speech that would be deemed a “true threat:” Speech that a person reasonably would perceive as an immediate threat to his or her physical safety. For example, yelling at a student in a menacing way that causes the student to fear an imminent physical assault.
  • Speech that incites illegal activity: There is no right to incite people to break the law, including to commit acts of violence. To constitute incitement, the Supreme Court has said that there must be a substantial likelihood of imminent illegal activity and the speech must be directed to causing imminent illegal activity. For example, a speaker on campus who urges the audience to engage in acts of vandalism and destruction of property immediately after the speech.
  • Speech that rises to the level of individual, targeted harassment: Speech aimed at an individual or identifiable group on the basis of a protected characteristic such as race, ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, religion or disability; that is also pervasive and severe; is a direct or implied threat to employment or education; or creates an intimidating, hostile and demeaning atmosphere. For example, posting racist messages on the dorm room of a Chinese student would be regarded as harassment and not speech protected by the First Amendment.
  • Speech that is obscene: For example, protesting with signs that contain explicit sexual acts depicted on those signs could be restricted.
If I think speech is offensive or believe it rises to the level of hate speech, can the university prohibit or restrict that speech?

Not likely. There is no exception under the First Amendment that prohibits hate speech. Hate speech is not really legally defined under the law, but it generally refers to insulting or demeaning speech towards individuals or groups based on protected characteristics. While the University condemns speech of this kind, the First Amendment protects unpopular speech, even offensive speech. Offensive speech can only be regulated by Wichita State University if it falls outside the protections of the First Amendment (rises to the level of personally harassing, incites illegal activity, violates criminal laws, etc.).

Does "Freedom of Expression" mean speech without restriction?

No. As a state entity, Wichita State University may restrict speech as long as the restriction is reasonably tailored to time, place or manner restrictions. In addition, Wichita State University must abide by all applicable federal, state and local regulations. This includes policies established by the Kansas Board of Regents.

What is a time, place or manner restriction?

Reasonable limitations may be placed with regard to time, place, and manner as long as such restrictions are content-neutral limitations.

University buildings, facilities, and grounds are not available for unrestricted use by individuals and groups for purposes of constitutionally protected speech, assembly or expression. The right to speak or gather on campus is not a right to speak or gather 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 it does not disrupt the operations of the institution, damage property, or otherwise threaten the health or safety of others.

These restrictions can come in several forms, such as imposing limits on noise level of speech; capping the number of protesters who may occupy a given forum; barring early-morning or late-evening demonstrations; restricting the size or placement of signs on government property; requiring prior approvals or licenses for demonstrations; restricting certain venues due to safety concerns, etc. The need to consider time, place and manner issues is the reason that the University requires, to the extent practicable, that students work with Event Services when setting up their events.

Our student group wants to organize a rally. Can we have our rally on campus?

Yes. Support of any cause by orderly and peaceful means is permitted on campus so long as it does not disrupt the operations of the institution, damage property, or otherwise threaten the health or safety of others. However, any rally, protest, or demonstration will be limited to outdoor venues absent extenuating circumstances or advance approval by the University and will not disrupt classes, block access to University buildings, offices, or classrooms, or otherwise infringe upon normal operations and functions.

How do I schedule a free expression event on campus?

Except where such advance notice is impossible or unreasonable, a request to hold a Campus Expressive Activity should be submitted to Event Services at least 72 hours before the start of the event to ensure its successful execution. Appropriate advance notice permits the University to engage with the individual, group, or entity to help ensure the event is effective, to ensure participants' safety, and to assist organizers in seeing that the event does not disrupt the normal functioning of the University.

A Campus Expressive Activity should be registered with University Event Services by emailing letsmeet@wichita.edu or calling (316) 978-3475 no later than seventy-two (72) hours prior to the Event, and by providing a “Notification of Intent” to be on University property. You can provide a “Notification of Intent” by filling out the Notification of Intent Form. (WSU 11.12.IV.B).

Will the university restrict the content of any free expression event?

Subject to the time, place and manner restrictions as discussed above, Campus Expressive Activities will not be reviewed, denied, or approved due to the content of the proposed activity. Speech that is not protected by the First Amendment can be regulated. WSU retains the right to assure the safety of individuals, to prevent true threats or harassment, to protect property, and to ensure the continuity of the educational process including the maintenance of entrance to and egress from all University buildings and offices, the ability to conduct regular class meetings, and other University functions.

Can I pick the location of any free expression event I want to host?

Public areas on campus will be available on a first-come basis and will be assigned by University Event Services after considering the information provided by the event sponsor in the Notification of Intent. The activity must not create safety hazards or pose unreasonable safety risks to University students, employees, or visitors. For example, there may be limitations on location depending on the number of expected attendees due to occupancy and fire codes, the need for police protection, etc.

If I sponsor a campus expressive event, what obligations do I have concerning cleaning up after the event?

To avoid excessive campus littering and the creation of additional work for University employees, individuals and groups are expected to keep utilized areas clean and return them to the same condition as before the Event. Reasonable charges may be assessed against the event sponsor for the costs to repair damaged property or for clean-up that is deemed to be in excess of customary campus clean-up for campus events.

Can the university cancel or refuse to allow a free expression activity?

While WSU’s goal is allow Free Expression Activities on campus, no event may interfere with the operational, administrative, or educational activities inside or outside any University building or otherwise prevent the University from fulfilling its mission. The University may halt, cancel, restrict or prohibit any activity if it is determined, after consideration of the circumstances, that the event creates or will create an imminent threat of danger to persons or property or will impede the University's orderly operation.

If my event is canceled or restricted, do I have any appeal rights?

Yes. If a Campus Expressive Activity is denied space for its function, is limited in its scope, or is not permitted to be held, the event sponsor may appeal to the Dean of Students (or designee). If the appeal is denied, the event sponsor may request a final review of the decision by the Vice President for Student Affairs (or designee) whose decision is final.

As a faculty member, am I allowed to invite a political candidate or official to guest lecture in my class?

Political candidates or elected officials can guest lecture in a class as long as they are not campaigning, fundraising or promoting election voting. Faculty should make every effort to promote respect for differing positions and party affiliation, and to guide all classroom instruction and discussion to allow for competing opinions and positions. Faculty should also make every effort to be fair in seeking classroom guests and visitors.

Can the Student Government Association host a City Council candidate debate?

Yes, any student organization can host a political party candidate debate as long as the student organization ensures that opposing views are available, every candidate competing for the elected position is invited to speak, and the information or questions presented are on a neutral or non-partisan basis. The event must be open to the public.

Can student organizations, fraternities and sororities advocate for a political candidate or political issue on social media or in other forums?

Yes, as long as all opinions are clearly identified as the opinions of the organization and are not identified as representing the official position of Wichita State University or providing any endorsement of the University. (WSU Policy 11.22.III.F & G).

Can I set up a table outside the Rhatigan Student Center and ask students to donate to support my bid for a state house representative seat?

No. No one can fundraise in the RSC or in any campus facilities or on campus grounds for any candidate for political office, party committee or political committee. (WSU 11.22.III.A; KBOR II.E.16.a).

I am helping a local nonprofit organization get out the vote. Can I hand out candidate materials in Jardine Hall as long as I hand out materials for all candidates on the ticket?

No. Political handbills cannot be distributed in Jardine Hall or any areas devoted primarily to instruction and study or at the immediate sites and times of enclosed public events (WSU 11.22.III.D and KBOR Policy II.E.16.d)).

We are organizing a ribbon-cutting ceremony for our new office, and invited a local County Commissioner to the ceremony. Can we introduce her at our event?

Yes. Political office holders and political candidates may be introduced or recognized on campus if they are attending a “campus event.” A campus event includes ribbon cuttings. Other examples of campus events may include retirement celebrations, awards ceremonies, statue unveilings, research award announcements, newly created department or office open houses, etc. .

I am in a political science course. Can my professor discuss the recent Presidential campaigns?

Yes, as long as the discussion is in the spirit of educating the class consistent with the course curriculum.

Can I invite the Governor to attend our department's weekly faculty luncheon to speak?

Yes, but only because it is the Governor. It would be a violation of Kansas Board of Regents and Wichita State University policy for any other elected official or political candidate to speak at any non-campus event on campus like a department meeting.

I am running for City Council. Can I record my YouTube commercial promoting my campaign on campus?

It depends. Generally, there can be no filming, video-taping or other production of partisan political advertisements on campus. If WSU’s campus or buildings are going to be visible in the commercial and are recognizable as being a part of the Wichita State University campus, the commercial cannot be filmed on campus.

A U.S. Senator will be on campus. Can I introduce him to the president, provost and faculty members?

Yes. One-on-one introductions of political office holders and political candidates on campus are not prohibited. (WSU 11.22.III.D.; KBOR Policy II.E.16.c).

I am running for state election. Can I include a WSU Shocker logo on my campaign letterhead to show that I graduated from WSU?

No. University name, logos, letterhead and/or resources cannot be used for partisan electoral purposes (fundraising, endorsements, advocating a position with regard to a public issue) (WSU 11.22.III.H.).

Our Wichita political action group wants to hold a political meeting on campus. Does WSU allow political events in campus facilities or on its grounds?

Political meetings and political public forums may be held on campus as long as: (1) there is no interference with regularly scheduled functions; (2) the requesting party can clearly demonstrate that there is not otherwise available a reasonably suitable facility in the community; and (3) students are permitted to hear the speaker without charge. (WSU 11.22.III.C. and KBOR II.E.16.b.).