First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

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.  

~ Passed by Congress September 25, 1789
Ratified December 15, 1791

Students, faculty and staff gather to listen to a speaker during the 2019 Diversity Symposium at Colorado State University.
Students, faculty and staff gather to listen to a speaker during the 2019 Diversity Symposium at Colorado State University.

Free Speech on Campus: Protections & Limits

There are several events held each year on campus – speakers, political rallies, demonstrations, and non-political activities such as sporting events – which may inspire you to exercise your rights under the First Amendment. As a state institution of higher education, the University celebrates, honors, and respects the First Amendment and your right to free speech. However, those rights are not without limit, and it’s important to understand what constitutes protected expressive activity and what is not permitted at this public university.

CSU has a Free Speech and Peaceful Assembly policy, which you can access online. This policy describes how the rights to free speech and peaceful assembly are afforded and protected by the University. The policy includes the following about disruptive activity, access, and symbolic protests:

  • Disruptive Activity: Any act that unreasonably interferes with the rights of others to peaceably assemble or to exercise the right of free speech, disrupts the normal functioning of the University, damages property, or endangers health or safety is specifically prohibited.
  • Reasonable Access: The University is required by law to provide and maintain reasonable access to, and exit from, any office, classroom, laboratory, or building. This access must not be obstructed at any time.
  • Symbolic Protest: Displaying a sign, gesturing, wearing symbolic clothing, or otherwise protesting silently is permissible unless it is a disruptive activity or impedes access to facilities. In addition, such acts should not block the audience’s view or prevent the audience from being able to pay attention to a lawful assembly and/or an official University event.

For more information, download this handout:
Free Speech, Protests and other Expressive Activities on Campus: Know Your Rights & Responsibilities (PDF)

What can I do if I object to or am concerned about a speaker scheduled to come to CSU?

Today college campuses are at the epicenter of discourse about free speech and hate speech. This has put universities in a difficult position: not wanting to enable the normalization of hate speech while remaining obligated to uphold our Constitution and the First Amendment, which can protect the expression of hateful speech.

So, what can you do if you object to a speaker coming to campus or their message? There are several options for faculty, staff and students:

  • Avoid the event to minimize attention for the speaker and their agenda
  • Attend the speech and express counter views during permitted open comment
  • Participate in a peaceful protest
  • Schedule an alternative speaker
  • Schedule an alternative event

Additionally, resist being used as a political prop and baited into a heightened reaction by individuals or groups whose messages you oppose. Be aware that they might videotape or photograph such reactions to use on social media and online publications for their group’s own promotion, recruitment and fundraising purposes.

Faculty Resources

The Provost’s Office and the Office of the Vice President for Diversity have compiled pedagogical resources that faculty might consult in order to be prepared to engage their students around First Amendment topics as they emerge and evolve on campus. The resources include a guide to assist and encourage classroom discussion pertaining to campus events, speakers and free speech issues that occur throughout the year. The guide is designed to help faculty facilitate these types of learning opportunities, while mitigating harm and promoting dialogue.

How to Respond to Incidents of Bias & Hate

What are incidents of bias and hate, and what should you do if you are the target of such incidents or witness someone else being targeted? The Southern Poverty Law Center suggests steps you can take, and there is a Tell Someone system in place at CSU that allows you to report incidents of bias and hate on campus. See the How to Respond to Incidents of Bias & Hate resource page.

CSUnite Walk & Community Gathering

CSUnite: No Place for Hate, an all-university walk and community gathering, took place on March 29, 2018

CSUnite: No Place for Hate took place on Thursday, March 29, 2018, an all-university walk and community gathering to stand up for our university principles and demonstrate that CSU is No Place for Hate. Nearly 3,000 faculty, staff, students and Fort Collins community members gathered at Newton’s Corner to hear speakers and march together in solidarity to the Lory Student Plaza for the remaining program. Following the program, there were opportunities for learning and action.

This event promoted an inclusive campus and to acknowledge we cannot move forward as a community unless we do so together. Organized as a peaceful assembly against hate, CSUnite was part of the ongoing work across the institution to stand up to ignorance and hate with education, knowledge, and understanding.  Click here for more information on CSUnite.

Statements to Campus

These statements were sent to campus by Colorado State University leadership addressing matters involving the First Amendment, free speech, peaceful assembly, potential controversial speakers and hate group activities on campus.

A History of Activism & Controversial Speakers on Campus

May 7-8, 1970, a student strike supported by many faculty members was held on the LSC Plaza, protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia.

Political debate and activism on college campuses is, of course, nothing new. There is a long history of it in this country, including here at CSU dating back to the 1930s. For a more extensive look at the history of activism and controversial speakers at CSU visit this page.