Your questions, answered
As an institution of higher education, IU encourages the free and civil exchange of ideas and academic freedom. But what does “free speech” mean and how does IU balance the rights of individuals to engage in protected First Amendment speech and expressive activity with its responsibility to protect public health, safety, and welfare, and to prevent the disruption of university educational and administrative functions?
What is “speech”?
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of speech, which includes both spoken and written words, as well as symbolic speech and expressive activity. For example, an individual may express an opinion by remaining silent, by wearing an armband or other apparel that communicates a message, or by engaging in expressive activity to convey an opinion, such as taking a knee or engaging in a sit-in. All of these expressive activities, along with spoken words, signs, and leafletting/tabling are considered “speech” under the First Amendment.
Can the university impose limits on protected speech activities?
Yes, as long as those limitations are reasonable and are not based on viewpoint or content.
Governmental entities, including public universities, retain the authority to regulate the time, place, and manner of free speech and expressive activities in order to protect public health, safety, and welfare and to prevent the disruption of their governmental functions—in the case of a university, its educational, research, outreach and business functions, and normal or scheduled uses of university property by the campus community.
For example, a peaceful event that involves a gathering of demonstrators with signs can generally proceed with no intervention; however, the demonstration may be redirected to another location or dispersed if the group is blocking ingress and egress to buildings or interfering with pedestrian or vehicular traffic.
Are there types of speech that are not protected?
Yes. While the First Amendment protects most types of speech and expressive activity, obscenity, physical violence, specific threats of physical violence, intimidation, and the destruction of property are not protected.
What about "hate speech"?
There is no “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment. Speech that is hateful, offensive, or inconsistent with the university’s values is nonetheless protected speech under the First Amendment.
An invitation by an internal sponsor or a reservation of space by an external sponsor does not constitute the university’s or the internal sponsor’s endorsement of any or all the speaker’s views or opinions.
The best response to speech that a listener finds offensive is civil counter-speech. Threats, violence, or the disruption or interference with the speaker’s right to speak and that audience’s right to hear by counter-protesters (the so-called “heckler’s veto") is likewise not protected by the First Amendment.
How does IU support the tenets of the First Amendment and protect free speech?
Indiana University is committed to the free sharing of ideas and viewpoints. This commitment to free inquiry and expression guides our teaching and research. Students and faculty are encouraged to engage in respectful discussions with those whose perspective may be different than their own. IU offers a variety of courses, events, student groups, and activities that span across the spectrum of ideas and viewpoints. In addition, faculty and student groups traditionally invite a variety of speakers to our campuses that present a wide range of positions on issues facing the campus community and society at large.
Indiana University affords and is committed to protecting the rights of students, faculty, staff, and invited guests and visitors to free speech and expressive activity, such as assembling and speaking in public areas of campus, as well as writing, publishing, and inviting speakers on any subject. These protections are embodied in:
- IU’s Academic Freedom policy
- IU's Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities & Conduct
- the First Amendment at Indiana University policy
- IU's Event Management Policy
- IU's Contact with State Officials, Federal Officials, and Political Campaigns, and Other Political Activities policy
- the university's adherence to state and federal laws
A campus group I'm a part of would like to invite a potentially controversial speaker to campus. Can I do that?
Yes, Indiana University does not limit speakers or visitors (including protestors and counter-protestors) to the university on the basis of their points of view or beliefs. As noted above, a speaker or visitor, including protesters and counter-protestors, may be excluded from campus if there is physical violence or specific threat of physical violence or destruction of property.
An individual or group that wishes to host any event on campus must comply with the university's Event Management policy, which articulates how IU facilitates the varied and large-scale events conducted on IU’s campuses consistent with law and university policies. This policy and its procedures are intended to foster and sustain the conditions necessary for the safe, free, and lawful expression of ideas in the context of a diverse academic community and to address public health, safety and welfare and promote the efficient and orderly use of university property.
I don't agree with something happening on campus, and I want to participate in a protest or demonstration. Are there any guidelines for participating in this kind of activity?
Protests and demonstrations are also governed by the university’s Event Management policy.
As is the case with the speakers or events being protested, IU expects that dissenting opinions will take the form of civil dialogue, expression and sharing of beliefs and opinions in a manner that does not take the form of physical violence or pose a specific threat of physical harm to any person or the destruction of property. As noted above, efforts of counter-protesters to disrupt or interfere with a speaker’s presentation—controversial or not—is not protected by the First Amendment and may result in redirection to another location or dispersal of the counter-protest.
Demonstrators and counter-demonstrators are expected to follow federal, state and local laws as well as IU policies. Failure to do so may result in referral to the appropriate faculty, staff, or student disciplinary processes, law enforcement, or both.
What is the IU Bloomington Demonstration Response and Safety Team?
Members of the DRST, launched in the summer of 2017, are student affairs professionals who work at demonstrations, rallies, protests, and other campus events on behalf of the Vice Provost
Their role is to be an onsite resource regarding students’ rights to free expression and about other people’s rights to free expression. Team members, who wear nametags and try to be visible, also answer questions from faculty, staff, and the general public pertaining to free speech on and around campus or by campus groups. Lastly, they can advise students and student groups on issues related to safety during their events.
For additional information about setting up events at IU Bloomington, the Division of Student Affairs outlines a number of policies and guidelines.