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Free Speech and Expression under the First Amendment

College is meant to be a place where people can freely share ideas and opinions. But what happens when we don’t like what we hear? And what if this happens outside of the classroom? Here’s what you need to know about free speech and expression in public areas.

Jump to: Ohio FORUM Act Reporting

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does Columbus State allow people and organizations to freely speak, express, or demonstrate on campus?

The U.S. Constitution protects free speech and expression in public forums. As a public college, Columbus State is legally required to allow people to speak on sidewalks and other open areas of campus. Just because Columbus State is legally required by the Constitution to allow free speech on campus grounds does not mean the College agrees with or endorses what is being said.

Can Columbus State stop a person’s speech, expression, or demonstration? 

Most forms of expression are protected, even if offensive or hateful. Expressive activities on Columbus State’s campus, such as speech, pamphleting or displaying signs, may be subject to reasonable limits to the time, place, and manner of the activities (such as prohibiting excessive noise that disrupts learning in the classroom, and prohibiting activity that impedes vehicle or pedestrian traffic).

Safety is something the College takes very seriously, and if altercations occur, police will ensure the safety of everyone. Free speech and expression does not protect violent or criminal behavior.

Is hate speech legally protected?

Hateful or offensive speech is protected by the Constitution in the same way that 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.

Can a person’s speech and expression be considered legal harassment?

If you are able to stop listening and walk away, it’s unlikely that a court would find a person’s speech, expression or demonstration to meet the legal definition of harassment.

Is there anything else I need to know about free speech and expression on campus?

  • If there is ever a threat to anyone’s safety, contact 911 or campus police at (614) 287-2525.
  • 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 Columbus State students and employees are held to a higher standard of conduct and civility than visitors. (See the Student or Employee Handbook for more information).

Want to do more? Exercise your own right to free speech and expression.

Columbus State is proud of being the most diverse college in Central Ohio, and we’re committed to raising awareness and promoting dialogue on these issues. To get involved, contact Student Engagement & Inclusion.

Ohio FORUM Act Reporting

September 22, 2021