Bowling Green State University, as a public institution, is committed to freedom of expression and the rights protected by the First Amendment.  We affirm this commitment to all members of the University community ensuring the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn.  This is not to say that this freedom is absolute.  The University may properly restrict expression that violates the law.  Moreover, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression, consistent with the location, to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University.

The following Q and A is intended to be a primer on common free speech and expression terminology. Specific questions should be directed to either the Office of General Counsel or the Office of the Dean of Students.  Notice of threats, emergencies, or questions regarding possible law violations should be directed to the Bowling Green State University Police Department. 

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech . . . .”  This means that the federal and state governments cannot take actions that infringe on a person’s right to speak and express themselves. 

The Supreme Court had held that the First Amendment protects more than just words.  It protects a wide variety of ways people express themselves.  This includes speaking, writing, posting on the internet, creating art, and most every kind of communication media.

Not all speech is protected by the First Amendment, but these probhibited expressive activities are few and narrow. Examples of unprotected speech include, but are not limited to, harassment, true threats, defamation or speech that is likely to incite imminent lawless action.

While hate speech can be extremely harmful, offensive speech (in person, written or via social media) that communicates hatred, bigotry and other abhorrent ideas is still protected speech under the First Amendment. Recognizing the tendency to want to prohibit hate speech given the ways in which speech can be used to marginalize groups, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected laws and policies (including university policies) that seek to prohibit and punish hate speech.

The Constitution allows federal and state governments to enact laws that distinguish between speech and criminal conduct.  A “hate crime” occurs when someone who is motivated by bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity commits a crime against a person or property.  The key point is that there is criminal conduct motivated by hate.  For example, arson is the crime of intentionally setting fire to a building.  If someone committed the crime of arson

because they were motivated by bias against the owners’ or occupants’ race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity, the arson would also be a hate crime.

There is no single best way to respond to hate speech.  Much depends on the location and the circumstances.  Some might choose to leave; others might choose to stay and debate.  However one chooses to respond, be sure you do not violate the law or the Code of Student Conduct. It is the responsibility of all members of the University community to discourage misconduct and report such incidents.

If you believe that someone is violating the Code of Student Conduct, you should report it to the Office of the Dean of Students using the “See It. Hear It. Report It." All reports received will be investigated.  Anonymous reporting is in an option, but understand that doing so may impact the University’s ability to investigate if limited information is available.

You should report emergencies and any criminal behavior to the BGSU Police Department (419-372-2346).

To allow the University to conduct its operations without disruption, it can impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on expressive activities, consistent with the location, provided those regulations are applied in a content neutral way that neither favors nor disfavors a speaker’s message. 

As a general rule, the nearer a speaker is to a University building, and the nearer in time the speech is to regular University operations, the greater will be the University’s interest in regulating the time, place and manner of the expressive activity.

In all cases, however, the University will not discriminate based on a speaker’s beliefs or their level of controversy. BGSU supports freedom of speech and stands by the First Amendment.  It is important to remember that the views or beliefs of speakers on-campus are not necessarily representative of the values of the institution.

Where one can engage in expressive activity depends on the form of communication you use.  Wearing an armband or a T-shirt would be appropriate in a classroom; holding a demonstration there would not be.  However, a demonstration could be appropriate in other areas, provided it does not disrupt normal University operations or prevent other people from moving freely about the campus.

For groups of people, some locations are more suitable than others.  For example, the Union Oval; the outside steps of the Education Building; the Education/Business Administration/Library lawn (Carillon Park); the University Hall lawn; the lawn near the Math-Science building; and the lawn near Oaks/McDonald are good places for speaking to groups.  These spaces and other campus grounds may be used upon request as described in Policy 3341-6-42, Space and Facilities Reservations Including Use of Campus Grounds.

The regulation of sound amplification is a good example of a “content neutral, time, place and manner restriction.”  Amplified sound can be regulated because of the concern it presents for disrupting other University activities such as classroom instruction.   One must obtain written approval before using a sound amplification device on campus, as described in Policy 3341-6-3, Use of Amplified Sound on University Premises.

Yes.  However, in exercising your rights you cannot deny another person their speech rights. No one is allowed to use a “heckler’s veto” to prevent another’s exercise of their First Amendment rights.  The University has the right and duty to maintain peace and order and ensure that all persons are able to exercise their constitutional rights equally.

The First Amendment protects several basic liberties — freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and to petition the government. Interpretation of the amendment is far from easy, but there are a number of other ways people can learn about freedom of speech. 

  • The University offers classes on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, including free speech.  Students interested in enrolling should discuss with their academic advisor.
  • Students are encouraged to review the University Policy on Freedom of Expression and the policies referenced in it.
  • There are many resources on the Internet and in the library where people can learn about free speech.  Community members are encouraged to seek these out.
  • BGSU also offers occasional seminars and workshops on free speech and other related matters. We encourage community members to attend.    

Updated: 08/30/2023 01:54PM