Speech Zones 101: Your Rights in Speech Zones

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Friday, August 9, 2019


As a conservative student, I’ve dealt with the silencing of conservative speech first hand. The frustrations come in a variety of targeting both individuals and groups. The rising threat to our Free Speech on campus has recently been “speech zones.” The administration’s hold on our speech isn’t only limited to zones, but can also include speech codes and anti-harassment policies. 

In an article addressing the issue, the Huffington Post defined speech restrictions as “a set of provisions or regulations that limit certain types of offensive or harassing speech.” With the modern left viewing speech as a form of violence, what can be defined as offensive or harassing is very broad. Therefore, this definition doesn’t lend itself to a clear view of our legal rights. For example, the University of Illinois has a speech code stating, “Discussion and expression of all views is permitted within the University subject only to requirements for the maintenance of order.” 

This sounds pretty clear cut, but the university didn’t exactly follow through on their promise of open discussion. In May, 2019 the school created a bias response team to combat alleged “bias” on their campus. This obviously wasn’t disrupting order on campus, but it was still censored by administration. Though this may seem like it would be impossible to get around, there are different forms of zones and codes that give different rights and ways to address the issue. Let’s talk about some of the common speech zones, your legal rights, and how to respond when you encounter these on campus. 

The type of speech zone to which an area is designated is usually related to the location, such as the public forum. The first and most common zone is the Public Forum, and this usually includes open public areas such as sidewalks and parks. Some campuses are designated as Public Forums, but, though most claim to be havens for Free Speech, they are highly regulated. 

In Public Forums, there is no viewpoint discrimination. As long as what you’re saying isn’t illegal, you’re welcome to say anything. You have full legal rights in a Public Forum, and, if denied those rights, you can seek legal help. When displaying or speaking in a specific area, it’s best to look up what type of zone you’re in beforehand. Public Forums seem general, but various forums have differing rules. 

The second type of speech zone is the Limited Public Forum. This will vary on the place, but can often be determined by surrounding activity. This zone CANNOT limit the content of your speech. It can limit the time, place, or manner of your speech, but no allegation can be content related. This is important to remember, as most students think a speech zone protects them from almost any speech they find insensitive or hurtful. Always be prepared with the facts when confronted by administration or students. When Limited Public Forums are used, there does have to be a reasonable alternative offered. If there’s no reasonable alternative, I encourage you to contact your administration to get the issue resolved as soon as possible. 

Now that we understand speech zones, we can address trigger warning signs and speech codes. When dealing with trigger warning signs, if you are displaying or speaking in a public area, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, therefore, you can have them taken down. Speech codes are quite the spider web, and I suggest you don’t tackle them alone. If you’re struggling with an issue concerning your school’s speech code I suggest you contact Alliance Defending Freedom. They offer First Amendment legal help and advice free of charge and will assist getting the problem resolved quickly and peacefully.

When dealing with public institutions, you can easily take the legal route to quickly resolve Free Speech violations, but private schools are a different issue. You can rarely take the legal route with these institutions, but that doesn’t mean you just let it go quietly. You can still do public relations campaigns and projects to see positive change on campus. In the case you have issues with a private institution, I suggest you contact Alliance Defending Freedom for further guidance.

Issues such as speech zones may seem small now, but as students we must continue looking ahead to what this may become. What looks like a little cub now can turn into quite the bear. 

The future of our speech is determined by today’s students and how deeply they regard their First Amendment rights. The fight may seem to be long lost concerning speech on campus, but the power of change lies only in the hands of those who choose to take a stand. 

Sarah Beddingfield is a Junior at Dunlap High School. She loves Jesus, her family, and America in that order. She’s never without a good political book in her hand, and in her free time you can always find her doing pro-life activism, playing music, or working at her church and in her community.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Sarah Beddingfield

Sarah Beddingfield is a Junior at Dunlap High School. She loves Jesus, her family, and America in that order. She’s never without a good political book in her hand, and in her free time you can always find her doing pro-life activism, playing music, or working at her church and in her community.

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