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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 restricted, out-of-the-way area on campus that the university designates as a “free speech zone” where students can go to speak freely. Some universities use these policies to 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 and often give administrators a right to review and approve materials before they are disseminated. In the scenario where campus officials have moved a student from a prominent spot on campus to a low- traffic area while sharing their beliefs, the university 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 “free speech areas.” Speech zone policies can often be discovered by asking the student activities office where a student group can hold an event on campus. It is likely they will reference the “free speech area.” 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 may also be utilized as a resource in helping students decipher whether their university has a speech zone.

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

Speech zones are 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.

Learn More

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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