The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution sets forth, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Since the 1960s the potential abridgement of freedom of speech has been the most controversial of the First Amendment freedoms on public university campuses.
Students, administrators and faculty often hold differing interpretations concerning what others may say and in what fashion they may express themselves. For this reason, in 2006, the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals established that public universities could reasonably control the time, place and manner of expression on campus. In the same court decision, the extent of the protection of free speech is affected by the forum (location/place) in which it occurs. Examples might be a classroom lecture versus a speech outdoors at a designated speakers’ platform. Furthermore, other courts noted that because of the nature of universities, there might be no other place in society where freedom of speech must receive greater protection, thus allowing the maximum flow of ideas. This discourse allows university students and faculty to push the sociological edges of American culture forward.
At CSULB, the Student Services Division keeps these precedents in mind. Student Services personnel remain “content neutral,” while ensuring that the appropriate regulations related to time, place and manner are followed. The campus community has seen individuals and groups express divisive opinions on religion, right to life, LGBT rights and international relations. This tension is protected speech, even though, at times, different members of the university community may object. The courts, through legal precedents, have made it clear that public universities like CSULB belong at the heart of debates which will shape the nation’s future.