Freedom of Speech
Texas Tech University is a public institution that supports the free exchange of ideas which includes the freedoms of speech and expression. Texas Tech respects the right of individuals to express their social and political views through all forms of legally protected speech, press, and assembly. In recognizing the freedoms of speech and expression as fundamental rights indispensable to its educational mission, Texas Tech is committed to ensuring free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation by students enrolled at the University as well as other persons. Texas Tech upholds the First Amendment to the United States' Constitution that states:
“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.”
Freedom of speech is the right of a person to articulate opinions and ideas without interference or retaliation from the government. However, freedom of “speech” is not limited to just spoken and written words; expressive activities that receive protection also include but are not limited to what a person wears, reads, performs, or protests. Texas Tech System Regulation 07.04 – Freedom of Expression can be found here. In addition, our FAQ regarding expressive activities can be found here.
The following frequently asked questions with answers are provided to provide a better understanding of the elements of the First Amendment and Texas Tech's mission to ensure the freedoms of speech and expression.
What speech is NOT protected by the First Amendment?
Although the First Amendment protects a broad range of speech and expressive activities, there are relevant exceptions. Such narrowly drawn categories of speech that the law deems as unprotected include, but are not limited to, the following:
True Threat/Fighting Words – Speech where the speaker communicates a serious intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals. Generally, such speech loses protection if a person would reasonably perceive the speaker's speech as an immediate threat to their physical safety.
Incitement of Illegal Activity – The First Amendment does not protect speech that incites people to break the law. While fact-specific in nature, such speech will generally lose protection if the speech creates a substantial likelihood of producing imminent illegal activity and the speech has intent to produce imminent illegal activity.
Harassment – In the 1999 case Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, the United States Supreme Court defined harassment that loses protection as conduct that is so “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” that such conduct effectively denies or limits equal access and the ability to participate in the education program or employment environment. Such harassing conduct is aimed at an individual on the basis of a legally protected characteristic (e.g., race, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, religion, disability). Please note, to meet the legal definition of harassment that loses such protection, such speech requires conduct that meets a higher threshold than the common definition of harassment. In most circumstances, speech that expresses offensive, intolerant, disrespectful, or outrageous views toward an individual on the basis of a legally protected characteristic will not rise to the level of depriving access to the educational program.
Obscenity – Speech or expression that (1) to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find it appeals to a prurient interest; (2) which depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual matters; and (3) which lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
Defamation – Under Texas law, defamation is a false statement about a person, published to a third party, without legal excuse, which damages the person's reputation.
On a related note, commercial speech, speech that proposes a commercial transaction or relates solely to the speaker's or audience's economic interests, receives less First Amendment protection than political speech. As such, commercial activities, including the marketing or selling of products or services, are generally not expressive activities and may be prohibited.
What has the U.S. Supreme Court passed about Freedom of Speech on public university campuses?
In the context of public universities, the right to speak on campus is not an unlimited right to speak at any time, at any place, and in any manner that a person wishes.
The United States Supreme Court has stated that public entities, which would include Texas Tech University, maintain the discretion to create, implement, and enforce “time, place, and manner” restrictions on speech in order to protect both the learning environment and freedom of expression.
Texas Tech's reasonable time, place, and manner provisions are detailed in TTU System Regulation 07.04, which can be found here.
Where is free speech allowed at Texas Tech?
Texas Tech does not limit or relegate free speech or expression to particular zones on campus. Texas Tech's common outdoor areas (operated and either owned or leased by the University) are deemed traditional public forums, and any person is permitted to engage in legally protected expressive activities in such areas of the University's campus.
The University reserves the right to implement and enforce reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions regarding expressive activities including, but not limited to, those set forth in TTU System Regulation 07.04, which can be found here.
When can disciplinary action be taken on campus?
Disciplinary action can be taken on campus in instances of speech unprotected by the First Amendment that violates University policy such as the Code of Student Conduct.
What activities are not allowed during a demonstration?
University policy provides relevant information to engage in free expression and lawful demonstration on university owned or leased property. The right to protest and demonstrate does not include the right to engage in conduct that disrupts the operations of the university or endangers the safety of others. For example, a group would not be able to stand outside a classroom building with bullhorns and sound amplification devices, thereby preventing any teaching from taking place inside the building.
Examples of activities that are not allowed are covered in the Code of Student Conduct, outlined in the Student Handbook, include but are not limited to:
- committing an act that would constitute a criminal offense under state, federal or municipal law
- failing to comply with a directive from a university official, including a summons to the office of an administrative officer at a designated time
- endangering the health or safety of other persons, including, for example, throwing an object, without authorization, in or from university facilities
- interfering or disrupting university teaching, research, or other activity, including administrative, disciplinary or public service activities
- endangering the physical or mental health or safety of any person or intentionally or recklessly causing injury to any person
- stealing, destroying, damaging, or misusing the property of the university equipment or resources without authorization.
What are the reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions at Texas Tech?
As stated above, Texas Tech retains the discretion to regulate where, when, and how speech and expressive activities occur to ensure the functioning of the campus by protecting public health and safety and preventing the disruption of its mission of academic instruction and education.
The following reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions are applicable to expressive activities in University outdoor common areas (for further information, please review TTU System Regulation 07.04, which can be found here):
- Activities that are unlawful or that materially and substantially disrupt the normal operations of the University are prohibited.
- Activities that materially and substantially prevent other individuals or groups from carrying out an expressive activity are prohibited.
- Activities that substantially interfere with vehicular or pedestrian traffic including the ingress or egress of University facilities are prohibited.
- Activities that substantially interfere with fire protection, law enforcement, or emergency or medical services are prohibited.
- Activities that threaten or endanger the health or safety of any person on University grounds are prohibited.
- Activities that result in damage or destruction of University property are prohibited. Nothing may be affixed to or written on University property or grounds.
- Activities that inherently lose First Amendment protection are prohibited.
- Expressive signage, posters, displays, or structures must be handheld, no larger than 3 feet in height by 3 feet in width. Displays, literature, and other items may not be left unattended.
- Amplified sound shall not exceed 80 decibel levels near University buildings, as measured at the outdoor edge of such buildings closest to the amplified sound. Any amplification device must be hand-held.
- No open flames are permitted on the University campus without the express written permission of the University.
- Any activities that are subject to licensing, code, or ordinance requirements/permits must have the proper licenses/permits and satisfy such codes and ordinances (e.g., serving food and beverages).
Additional Restrictions: The list of reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions above and described in TTU System Regulation 07.04 are not intended to be all-inclusive. The University reserves the right, as necessary, to impose additional reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions as circumstances arise. The University's decisions will not be based on political, religious, philosophical, ideological, or academic viewpoints. The University reserves the right to relocate, limit, or prohibit individuals or groups engaged in expressive activities in University outdoor common areas based on reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.
Is there a Texas Tech policy that addresses external speakers on campus?
TTU System Regulation 07.04, Section 5, sets forth the university's policy for speaker fees and approvals. Specifically, the Regulation requires that “in determining the amount of a fee to be charged for use of the institution's facilities for purposes of engaging in expressive activities, an institution . . . may consider only content-neutral and viewpoint-neutral criteria related to the needs of the event, such as . . . the proposed venue and the expected size of the audience; any anticipated need for campus security; any necessary accommodations; and any relevant history of compliance or noncompliance by the requesting student organization or faculty member with the institution's policy . . . and any other relevant policies; and may not consider any anticipated controversy related to the event."
Texas Tech remains committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive learning environment and in no way endorses any expressions of hate. Unless the hate speech meets the criteria for the exceptions to First Amendment protection as discussed above (e.g., true threat/fighting words, incitement of illegal activity, the legal definition of harassment, obscenity, defamatory speech, etc.), such speech or expression may receive First Amendment protection.
Student Handbook: https://www.depts.ttu.edu/dos/handbook/
Dean of Students: https://www.depts.ttu.edu/dos/
TTU System Regulations: https://www.texastech.edu/offices/cfo/regulations.php
TTU Expressive Activities FAQ: https://www.depts.ttu.edu/dos/docs/ExpressiveActivitiesFAQs.pdf
Texas Education Code, Subchapter Z, Chapter 51, Section 51.9315 (Protected Speech on Campus): https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/ED/htm/ED.51.htm