University Policies Related to Free Expression
University Policy 3158. Unlawful Workplace Harassment
University Policy 4210. Use of University Space
Freedom of Expression
What is freedom of expression, and what does it protect?
Freedom of speech is the right of a person to express themself without interference or retaliation from the government. The term “expression” includes far more than just words and speech, but also what a person wears, reads, performs, displays, etc.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as many state and federal laws, limits the government’s authority, including the authority of public institutions like UNC Asheville, to restrict protected expression. Protected expression under the First Amendment includes speech that may be considered deeply offensive or hateful.
Who has free expression rights on at UNC Asheville?
Students, faculty, staff, invited guests, and uninvited visitors from the general public all have free expression rights on UNC Asheville’s campus. Members of the university community have greater access to certain campus programs, activities and facilities to engage in protected expressive activities than campus visitors.
What are time, place, and manner restrictions?
The right to speak on campus is not a right to speak any time, at any place, and in any manner. Public institutions like UNC Asheville have discretion in regulating the “time, place, and manner” of speech on campus. These restrictions are not based on what is being said (content) or the opinion of the speaker (viewpoint). They regulate when, where, and how expression occurs.
These regulations are in furtherance of the University’s mission and operations, as well as protecting public safety.
Examples of acceptable campus time, place, and manner restrictions include notice periods, limiting the duration or volume of speech, and restricting speech during particular limited periods.
What is hate speech, and is it prohibited?
The term “hate speech” does not have a legal definition, but often refers to speech that insults or demeans a person or group of people on the basis of identity characteristics. While the university might not endorse or agree with speech of this kind, there is no “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment, and the university cannot lawfully restrict such speech solely on the basis of its offensiveness.
What kind of speech is not protected under the First Amendment?
The First Amendment does not protect certain speech, such as:
True threats: Speech that a person reasonably would perceive as an immediate threat to their physical safety
Incitement of violence or lawless action: Speech that creates a substantial likelihood of imminent illegal activity and is be directed to causing imminent illegal activity
Defamation: An intentional and false statement about an individual that is publicly communicated in written or spoken form and causes injury to the individual
Obscenity: Speech that (1) appeals to the “prurient” interest in sex, (2) is patently offensive by community standards, and (3) lacks literary, scientific, or artistic value.
Unlawful harassment and discrimination: Engaging in unwelcome conduct directed toward a particular person or identifiable group of persons based upon the target person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, age, national origin, ethnicity, disability, or veteran status through any action, method, device, or means which is so severe or pervasive, and objectively offensive, that it unreasonably interferes with the target person’s University employment, academic performance, or participation in University programs or activities, effectively denying equal access to University resources and opportunities (i.e., creates a hostile environment).
Invasion of privacy: Unjustifiable invasion of privacy or confidentiality not involving a matter of public concern.
Similarly, and in accordance with UNC System Policy 1300.8, otherwise protected speech that violates the University’s reasonable time, place, and manner policies or that otherwise materially and substantially disrupts or interferes with University operations or with the free expression rights of others is not permitted by the University and may result in the imposition of discipline, as appropriate.
What constitutes prohibited harassment?
UNC Asheville provides the following definitions for prohibited harassment:
Discriminatory Harassment/Intimidation – Engaging in unwelcome conduct directed toward a particular person or identifiable group of persons based upon the target person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, age, national origin, ethnicity, disability, or veteran status through any action, method, device, or means which is so severe or pervasive, and objectively offensive, that it unreasonably interferes with the target person’s University employment, academic performance, or participation in University programs or activities, effectively denying equal access to University resources and opportunities (i.e., creates a hostile environment).
Whether speech constitutes harassment is based on a variety of factors, such as how often the conduct occurs and the extent to which it is directed at a particular individual.
Who do I contact with questions about freedom of speech?
UNC Asheville’s General Counsel is the University’s designated “Responsible Officer,” charged with ensuring compliance with the University’s free speech and expression policies and for answering any related questions or concerns, in accordance with UNC System Policy 1300.8. Should you or your organization have any such questions or concerns, please contact the UNCA Office of General Counsel.
Can the University cancel an event involving a controversial or offensive speaker?
In general, UNC Asheville cannot prevent an event because it is likely to provoke a hostile response. Stopping expression before it occurs due to the anticipated reaction to the speech is often referred to as a “heckler’s veto” and is a form of “prior restraint.” Prior restraints on speech activities are highly suspect and rarely deemed lawful.
That said, the University’s primary concern is the safety of its students, faculty, and staff. UNC Asheville makes security assessments with input from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies whenever speech activities may pose a threat to public safety. The University is required to do what it can to protect speakers and to prevent disruption or violence. If, however, there remains a serious threat to public safety and no reasonable alternative, an event may be canceled.
What if the views being shared by a speaker are counter to the express values of the University?
The stated vision and values of UNC Asheville promise a robust intellectual environment that values social and cultural diversity and free expression.
As a public institution, UNC Asheville must support both peaceful protest and the rights of individuals or groups to say or do things that it might find objectionable, or even hurtful. The university cannot make decisions or take actions based on the viewpoint or content of the speech. The university’s commitment to supporting free speech activities, however, does not constitute an endorsement of any specific speech at issue. Furthermore, the university can and does articulate when speech or action runs counter to our values.
Am I allowed to protest an event or speaker on campus?
Yes, the right to protest is protected by the First Amendment. However, you may not infringe on the rights of others and, therefore, may not create a material and substantial disruption or substantial interference with another’s protected speech activity.
What is a “heckler’s veto,” and is it allowed?
Although it is permitted and appropriate to protest speech with counter speech, that protest should not silence or disrupt the original speaker. A “heckler’s veto” is the silencing or disruption of another’s speech by one’s own speech or conduct. In general, freedom of speech does not give someone the right to prevent others from exercising their expressive rights. Those who engage in disruptive or interfering behavior may face disciplinary action or, in some instances, criminal charges.
Is chalking permitted on campus?
Chalking is permitted on horizontal, non-covered cement surfaces only, such as sidewalks and walkways that are openly exposed to weather. No buildings, structures, walls or brick surfaces may be chalked, including the Ramsey Library steps. Spaces cannot be reserved for a group or individual to chalk, thus it is the University’s expectation that those wishing to chalk an area be respectful of any chalking which may already be present. No chalking should be removed by one group to be replaced by another unless it is for a dated event that has already occurred
What are the rules for hosting political candidates on campus?
The University is a publicly-owned institution and its space and resources are open to persons and groups involved in the political process. Consistent with this policy, University space is available to authorized space users involved in the political process without political preference.