"The Board of Regents and the University of Iowa are committed to the principles of free expression embodied in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution of the State of Iowa.  The Board recognizes that the primary mission of the institutions of higher education under its jurisdiction is the promotion of teaching, research, and scholarship.  In support of this mission, the institutions of higher education under the jurisdiction of the Board of Regents must provide ample opportunity for members of the campus community to engage in the free exchange of ideas.

The primary function of the Regent universities is the discovery, improvement, transmission, and dissemination of knowledge by means of research, teaching, discussion, and debate. To fulfill this function, the universities must strive to ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression allowed under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

It is not the proper role of the Regent universities to shield individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which may include ideas and opinions the individual finds unwelcome, disagreeable, or even offensive.

It is the proper role of the Regent universities to encourage diversity of thoughts, ideas, and opinions and to encourage, within the bounds of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the peaceful, respectful, and safe exercise of First Amendment rights.

Students, faculty, and staff have the freedom to discuss any problem that presents itself, assemble, and engage in spontaneous expressive activity on campus, within the bounds of established principles of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions that are consistent with established First Amendment principles." (BOR, State of Iowa. [2019]. Freedom of Expression. [Policy 4.2])

What is Freedom of Speech? 

Freedom of speech is the right of an individual to express opinions, beliefs, and ideas without interference, censorship, or restraint from the government. The term “speech” constitutes expression that includes more than words. It may include what a person wears, reads, performs, and more.

Freedom of speech is protected by First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Other state and federal statutes and laws grant protection as well. Even speech some would view as offensive, hurtful, hateful, or harassing is protected. 

Speech not protected by the First Amendment?

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech by default, placing the burden on the state to demonstrate whether there are any circumstances that justify its limitation. When it comes to controversial speakers delivering remarks on campus, the relevant exceptions to the First Amendment that have been established are:

  • Speech that would be deemed a “true threat”: Speech that a person reasonably would perceive as an immediate threat to his or her physical safety is not protected by the First Amendment. For example, if a group of students yelled at a student in a menacing way that would cause the student to fear a physical assault, such speech would not be protected.
  • Incitement of illegal activity: There is no right to incite people to break the law, including to commit acts of violence. To constitute incitement, the Supreme Court has said that there must be a substantial likelihood of imminent illegal activity and the speech must be directed to causing imminent illegal activity. For example, a speaker on campus who exhorts the audience to engage in acts of vandalism and destruction of property is not protected by the First Amendment if there is a substantial likelihood of imminent illegal activity.
  • Harassment in an educational institution aimed at an individual on the basis of a protected characteristic (race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion); that is also pervasive and severe; is a direct or implied threat to employment or education; or creates an intimidating, hostile and demeaning atmosphere. 

What is hate speech? 

The term “hate speech” does not have a legal definition in the United States, but it often refers to speech that insults or demeans a person or group of people on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability or gender. The university condemns speech of this kind, there is no “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment and it is only illegal if it falls into one of the categories listed above. In fact, on many occasions, the Supreme Court has explicitly held that prohibitions or punishments for hateful speech violate the First Amendment.

The First Amendment protects a right to say hateful things.

As a campus, we strive to be a community that values diversity, equity, and inclusion. Just because there is a First Amendment right to say something, however, doesn’t mean it should be said.

What are time, place, and manner restrictions?

"Students and faculty have the freedom to discuss any problem that presents itself, assemble, and engage in spontaneous expressive activity on campus, within the bounds of established principles of the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions that are consistent with established first amendment principles." (-SF 274, p. 3)

"A member of the campus community who wishes to engage in noncommercial expressive activity in outdoor areas of campus shall be permitted to do so freely, subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions, and as long as the member's conduct is not unlawful, does not impede others' access to a facility or use of walkways, and does not disrupt the functioning of the public institution of higher education, subject to the protections of subsection 1. The public institution of higher education may designate other areas of campus available for use by the campus community according to institutional policy, but in all cases access to designated areas of campus must be granted on a viewpoint-neutral basis within the bounds of established first amendment principles." (-SF 274, p. 4)

The Supreme Court has stated public entities have discretion in regulating the “time, place, and manner” of speech. 

The UI may need to exercise this authority to hold events at a time and location that maximizes the chance an event will be successful and to ensure the safety of all participants and attendees. UI administration may assess and consider event safety if an event is deemed high profile.

The university may invoke time, place and manner parameters, for example, to ensure an event with a high profile speaker would be held in a venue believed to be secure and safe.

Additional information and resources for UI students: