Freedom of Expression FAQ

What is Ohio University’s statement on Free Speech?

Freedom of expression is the foundation of an Ohio university education. Open debate and deliberation, the critique of beliefs and theories, and uncensored academic inquiry are all essential to our shared mission of discovery and dissemination of knowledge. Please see the full statement in Policy No .01.040.

Is "hate speech" protected speech?

Although views expressed through hate speech are deeply at odds with the values of Ohio university, courts have held that such speech generally is protected by the First Amendment and cannot be punished or regulated based on its content.

How does free speech apply to controversial speakers that student groups bring to campus?

Ohio University does not restrict speakers based on their points of view. It is inherent to higher education that we will encounter unwelcome and inconvenient questions. Learning to form independent judgments requires that individuals demonstrate openness to the challenges their ideas may elicit and the willingness to alter their original views in light of new knowledge, evidence, and perspectives.  See the Event Speakers and Dissent section of Policy No .01.040.

Why doesn’t the University cover hateful messages on the graffiti wall?

As a part of our commitment to free speech, Ohio University does not attempt to restrict the speech of a particular group or individual, even if it is found to be offensive by another. Those who disagree with a message shared on the graffiti wall are encouraged to exercise their own right to free speech and convey their own message. See the Content Neutrality section of Policy No .01.040.

Does the First Amendment protect unlawful civil disobedience on campus?

Where civil disobedience involves violations of laws or rules, no. Protests and civil disobedience have played a historic role on university campuses, and certainly at Ohio University. However, civil disobedience is not protected speech under the Constitution. The Constitution does not guarantee any right to engage in civil disobedience where it entails the violation of laws or regulations without the risk of incurring consequences. Please see a further statement on civil disobedience in No .01.040.

Can I protest or hold a rally in an outdoor space?

Yes. Most of the outdoor spaces on the Ohio University campus can be used for expressive activities. See Policy No. 01.044.

Can my group reserve an outdoor space for a protest or rally?

Yes. Reservation procedures are explained in Policy No. 01.044.

Is a reservation required?

No. A reservation is not required, although some space can be reserved. Obviously, a spontaneous protest cannot supersede a planned event in reserved space, but other than that, all outdoor space is first come, first serve. See Policy No. 01.044.

Are there advantages to scheduling a protest or rally in advance?

There are advantages in that scheduling a rally allows you to reserve space and work with university and city officials to ensure safety.  You can also get a parade permit in advance, to keep pedestrians as safe as possible from vehicles.

Can a protest spontaneously take over a roadway or block traffic?

No. Protected speech does not include activities that block the movement of traffic or pedestrians, prevent safe and accessible ingress or egress of a building or space, disrupt the use of a space for its intended purpose, or disrupt activities occurring nearby. Engaging in such activities could lead to an arrest.

Do I need to provide advance notice of a rally or protest?

No. Advance notice is encouraged in order to address space and safety concerns, but advance notice is not required.

Can my group hold a rally inside a University building?

Yes, pursuant to policy, there are many spaces inside buildings that can be reserved for rallies and other expressive activities. See Policy No. 01.042.

Can my group express disagreement with university policies at meetings of the Board of Trustees?

Yes. Groups or individuals can engage in expressive activities at Board meetings as long the meetings are not disrupted. See the definition of disruption in Policy No. 01.042.

Can my group stage a sit-in or occupation of a University office?

No. The University prohibits sit-ins, occupations, and other activities designed to disrupt University operations. See Policy No. 01.042.

Where can people protest spontaneously on campus?

A spontaneous protest can occur in any outdoor space that does not block access or disrupt nearby operations or reserved events. See the definition of disruption in Policy No. 01.044. Spontaneous protests may also occur in certain indoor spaces subject to certain restrictions in the policy. See Policy No. 01.042.

Can I protest an event, speaker, or meeting inside a building?

Yes. As long as the protest does not disrupt the event, meeting, or speaker from continuing. See the definition of disruption in Policy No. 01.042.

Can I stand up and turn my back to a speaker I would like to protest?

Yes. Turning your back on a speaker is a protected form of expression (although you could lawfully be asked to move if you are blocking the view of others). See the definition of disruption in Policy No. 01.042.

Can I wear a t-shirt expressing my views on campus, to a speaker, at an event?

Yes. Wearing a t-shirt is a protected form of expression.

Can I bring signs expressing my views on campus to a speaker or at an event?

Yes. As long as the signs do not block the views of others and as long as signs are not expressly prohibited at the event. See the definition of disruption in Policy No. 01.042.

Can I pass out flyers or leaflets expressing my views?

Yes, in any outdoor space as long as the passing out of the flyers does not block egress or in some way disrupt a reserved event or university operations. See the definition of disruption in Policy No. 01.044.

What is Ohio University’s policy if I feel harassed by expressive activities?

Free Speech and Harassment Policy

This policy applies to Ohio University students, student groups, faculty, and staff.

Ohio Revised Code 3345.0212 requires each public university in Ohio to adopt a policy on harassment that is consistent with and adheres strictly to the definition of harassment in section 3345.0211 of the Ohio Revised Code.

The University believes that the right of expression is as necessary as the right of inquiry and that both must be preserved as essential to the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge and truth. However, the University’s commitment to freedom of expression does not extend to harassment. Under section 3345.0211, harassment is defined as conduct and/or expression that is not protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or Article I of the Ohio Constitution (Unprotected Expression) because it is:

1. unwelcome; and

2. so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies an individual equal access to the individual's education program or activity.

Expression (either in person, in writing or by telecommunication) must meet both of these elements to be actionable under this policy. This policy applies to alleged harassment that takes place on Ohio University property (owned, leased, or controlled premises), at Ohio University’s sponsored events, and in connection with Ohio University-recognized programs or activities. Students and student groups should report alleged violations of this policy to: The Office of the Dean of Students.

Faculty and staff should report alleged violations of this policy to: Respectively, the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost or University Human Resources.

Harassment that also rises to the level of a crime (e.g., a true threat, child pornography) should also be reported to the Ohio University Police Department.

This policy shall not be construed to impair any right or activity, including speech, protest, or assembly protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Nothing within this policy shall be interpreted as preventing Ohio University from restricting expressive activities that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution or Article I, Sections 3 and 11 of the Ohio Constitution does not protect.

Further nothing in this policy shall be interpreted as restricting or impairing the University’s obligations under federal law including, but not limited to, Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1962, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 as addressed through its non-discrimination and Title IX policies.