Free Speech at Humboldt State University

Humboldt State University has a rich history of student activism. We consider engagement with social and political issues an essential component of university life and are proud of this history and the beneficial changes student activism has brought to our community. HSU is committed to ensuring that our students may exercise their constitutionally protected rights of free expression, speech and assembly. We aim to be a vigorous protector of our student’s right to peacefully express their opinions through speech and media.

Please keep in mind:

While the first amendment does protect the right to free expression, please keep in mind that the Constitution does not guarantee any right to engage in civil disobedience — which, by its very definition, involves the violation of laws or regulations — without incurring consequences of said action. Even when performed in the pursuit of worthy causes, civil disobedience can have a negative effect on the protected interests of others. It might also interfere with University business, create a public safety concern, or endanger University assets. In these instances, the University may need to act to protect those interests.

For everyone to enjoy the freedom of expression there must be reciprocal respect for the rights of all individuals: the exercise of the rights granted by the First Amendment cannot interfere with others’ exercising their own rights. Please refer to the Time, Place, and Manner policy as a guide for planning any demonstration on campus.

Definitions of free speech

  1. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "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.
  2. Free Speech is defined by the California Constitution as "[e]very person may freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of this right. A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech or press."

Unprotected Speech

Speech excluded from constitutional protection is speech that promotes an unlawful end such as;

  • Promoting and incites imminent violence or harm
  • Fighting words
  • True threats
  • Expression that constitutes criminal or severe harassment
    • Severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive; AND
    • Undermines and detracts from the victim’s educational experience; AND
    • Results in the student being denied equal access to the institution’s resources and opportunities
    • Defamation (e.g. libel and slander)
    • Obscenity
    • The use of public resources for partisan political activities
    • False advertising

For policy clarification, please contact the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities (located in Siemens Hall 211), call (707) 826-3504, or via email osrr@humboldt.edu.

Is hate speech free speech?

The First Amendment protects speech no matter how offensive it’s content. The courts have made clear that there is no “hate speech” exception to the 1st Amendment, and that no one has a right not to be offended by speech. Most “hate speech” is as fully protected as any other form of protected speech. One is as free to condemn Islam– or Muslims, Jews, African Americans, Caucasians, or undocumented immigrants– as one is to condemn capitalism, socialism, democrats or republicans. Restrictions on speech by public colleges and universities would be a violation of the Constitution and the equivalent to government censorship. (Office of General Counsel, 2016)

When planning a demonstration:

Tips for Registered Campus Organizations

  1. Review HSU policies and clarify policy related questions with the Office of Clubs and Activities at (707) 826-3776.
    1. Review CSU policies: Time, Place and Manner Policy and the University Quad Events Policy and clarify related questions.
  2. Develop a plan: Meet with the Director of Student Life to discuss logistics, location, speakers and any other issue to assure a safe and successful event.
  3. Reserve a Venue: Reserve an appropriate venue with The Office of Student Life at (707) 826- 3776.  Remember to utilize the Time, Place, and Manner regulations along with other policies regarding amplification, use of public areas, and non-university speaker requirements.
  4. Set a goal and purpose for your demonstration.  Make sure all participating members of your club or organization understand the goal and intended outcome. 
  5. Confrontation: Before the event, meet with your members to discuss how they should respond in case they are confronted with offensive speech, behavior or violence during your demonstration. During the event, REMEMBER: DO NOT RESPOND PHYSICALLY AND CONTACT UNIVERSITY POLICE. You can contact University Police via phone by dialing 911 or at (707) 826 – 5555.

For support with this process, consult with the Director of Student Life (located in the Clubs and Activities Office in the UC South Lounge), call (707) 826-3776, or via clubs@humboldt.edu or the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities (located in Siemens Hall 211, call (707) 826 – 3504, or via email at osrr@humboldt.edu.

Student Conduct Policies

This section outlines potential violation of the California State University student code of conduct. Violation of Time, Place, and Manner policy can lead to student conduct violations. This is list is not exhaustive but meant to inform.

  1. Blocking of entrances to or otherwise restricting the free flow of traffic into and out of campus buildings, parking lots, campus roads and walkways with tables or movable stands:
    (2) Unauthorized entry into, presence in, use of, or misuse of University property.
    (4) Participating in an activity that substantially and materially disrupts the normal operations of the University, or infringes on the rights of members of the University community.
  2. Obstructing or disrupting campus activities, classes, and offices:
    (3) Willful, material and substantial disruption or obstruction of a University-related activity, or any on-campus activity.
    (4) Participating in an activity that substantially and materially disrupts the normal operations of the University, or infringes on the rights of members of the University community.
  3. Utilizing amplified sound without prior approval that disrupts campus activities: CAMPUS AMPLIFICATION POLICY (See TMP):
    (3) Willful, material and substantial disruption or obstruction of a University-related activity, or any on-campus activity.
    (4) Participating in an activity that substantially and materially disrupts the normal operations of the University, or infringes on the rights of members of the University community.
  4. Engaging in physically and/or verbally abusive or threatening conduct toward any person. This includes the use of weapons or any item that maybe used as a weapon such as frozen water bottles, sticks, bats and anything that may be deemed as dangerous by University officials as well:
    (7) Conduct that threatens or endangers the health or safety of any person within or related to the University community, including physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, or sexual misconduct.
  5. Exhibiting disorderly or lewd conduct. This includes disruptive behavior and/or disruption of a university activity.
    (6) Disorderly, lewd, indecent, or obscene behavior at a University related activity, or directed toward a member of the University community.
  6. Participating in a disturbance of the peace or unlawful assembly:
    (4) Participating in an activity that substantially and materially disrupts the normal operations of the University, or infringes on the rights of members of the University community.
  7. Failure to comply with a University official acting in the performance of their duties:
    (17) Failure to comply with directions or, or interference with, any University official or any public safety officer while acting in the performance of his/her duties.
  8. Engaging in theft, destruction of, or damage to any university property or equipment:
    (11) Theft of property or services from the University community, or misappropriation of University resources.
    (12) Unauthorized destruction, or damage to University property or other property in the University community.

All italicized sections are found in the California State University Student Code of Conduct

For more information about your First Amendment Rights, check out the ACLU’s guide on Free Speech on Campus.