The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects freedom of expression, and guarantees protection for speech unless it presents a clear and present danger, is obscene, or an imminent, “true” threat. Additionally, that freedom of speech does not allow us to silence those with whom we disagree. One person’s speech does not enjoy greater weight than another’s speech such that it may consume or silence the opposing view.
What can you do with your First Amendment rights?
This section covers various topics, including expressing disagreement, protesting, symbolic structures, restrictions, harassment and social media.
Does the First Amendment protect civil disobedience on campus?
Protests and civil disobedience have played a historic role on university campuses, in bringing important and beneficial changes within society, and in the development of our democracy. However, civil disobedience is not protected speech under the Constitution. 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. Actions and speech in civil disobedience may conflict with the free speech rights enjoyed by others, and may disrupt or interfere with University business and academic efforts, or even threaten public safety or University assets in ways that require the University or law enforcement to act to protect those other interests.
If my student organization hosts an on-campus event, can others video- or audio-record the event or the participants?
It depends. If the event occurs at a public location on campus where access cannot be limited/controlled (e.g., the Quad), then the event and its participants may be video- and audio- recorded.
If, on the other hand, the event occurs at a location where access can be controlled or limited (such as a meeting room or ballroom in the Student Union), then the student organization may establish reasonable rules for how audience members conduct themselves and what audience members may bring to the event venue (such as cameras, microphones, and/or other video and audio equipment) so long as the rules are posted at all entrances, are clearly visible, and are equally applied to all audience members. Student organizations interested in establishing reasonable restrictions (e.g., no leafleting, no videotaping) at their events should contact their advisor at Student Involvement and Leadership Center or further information on how to enact these rules.
Are chalking and posting permitted on campus?
Applying chalk on concrete walkways on campus is permitted under the same rules as other free expression. More specifically, the application of chalk cannot disrupt University functions; if it is commercial in nature, it needs to be approved; it cannot be obscene or threatening, etc. Additionally, persons who use this form of speech should understand its transitory nature. Even without action to remove chalk, it might be blurred, or otherwise modified or removed with pedestrian movement, or even inclement weather, or other factors, and as a result, speech may not have its intended consequence or reach its intended audience.
Placing temporary signage outdoors is also allowed on campus, subject to those same regulations (it cannot impede vehicular or pedestrian traffic or disrupt University functions; if it is commercial in nature, it needs to be approved; it cannot be obscene or threatening, etc.). If you want to place a sign on campus, it is a good idea to check with University Event Services to make sure that you have either reserved a space to place it or that you won’t be placing it in a space that someone else has already reserved. Finally, University Event Services will coordinate with Landscape Services if you want to place signs in the grass – that it to make sure that the signs will not get wet or interfere with the mowing schedule.
For the purpose of posting signs and banner outdoors, kiosks are provided for the purpose of promoting activities and services of recognized student organizations and University departments. In order to protect the personal property of students, employees, and visitors of the University, and the physical assets of the University, all other outdoor posting is not permitted, including, but not limited to, posting on vehicle windshields or trees, or affixing materials to light posts or to the exterior of any other University structure.
For the purpose of posting indoors, bulletin boards are provided both for recognized student organizations and University departments and for the public. The University may post notices regarding university business or display advertising by the holders of media rights and sponsorships, or other exclusive contracts. All other indoor posting is not permitted, including, but not limited to, posting on walls, doors, whiteboards, or inside bathroom stalls.
University personnel may remove materials posted in violation of Policy 1100, which you can read here.
Can we use a megaphone and/or a PA system if we host a protest?
Sound amplification, including by use of equipment designed or used for sound production, reproduction, or amplification, is generally not allowed.
“Disruptive Noise” is prohibited, and is defined as “noise where the sound, rhythm, melody, or instrumentation is Plainly Audible to the listener at a distance of 50 feet or more from the speaker or from within a building containing a classroom, staff or faculty offices, or residences.” “Plainly Audible,” in turn, is defined as “sound for which the information content is communicated to the listener, including, but not limited to spoken speech, comprehension of whether a voice is raised or normal, comprehensive musical rhythms, melody, or instrumentation.”
Sound amplification used for Official University Events, such as NCAA Sporting events or performances by the music department, is not Disrupting Noise because those are core functions of the University.
How much space can we reserve in the Quad?
Spaces can be reserved in the Quad by contacting University Event Services at 208-426-1677. Reservations must not impede pedestrian traffic, disrupt University functions, or disrupt others’ use of their reserved spaces or from going about their own business on campus.
Are there limitations on how often space can be reserved in the Quad?
To ensure that reservations are available to as many organizations/individuals as possible, reservations are generally not confirmed more than six months in advance, nor are reservations guaranteed on a “first come, first served” priority after the first 15 reservations per semester and/or after 5 reservations in a single week for one organization/individual.
What if another reservation encroaches on my group’s reserved space?
Notify Event Services staff if another reservation is encroaching upon your reserved space and your efforts to keep them out have not been honored.
Can I use a reservable space if no one is using it?
Yes. If a reservable space is not being used, you can use it unless or until a party arrives to use that reserved space. Please note that you are responsible in that case to provide any of your own tables and chairs and that you are responsible for cleaning up after yourself or your group.
Expressing Disagreement: Scenarios and Civil Disobedience:
Explore some of the ways you can use your First Amendment rights to express disagreement at Boise State University and see some scenarios that are designed to help you understand freedom of expression and what you should do when encountering offensive speech.
Expressing Disagreement Before, After or During an Event
- Write guest editorials or send letters to the Arbiter, ASBSU, political representatives, groups, individuals, administrators or responsible parties.
- Lend support, reassurance and empathy to others who may be hurt by offensive messages.
- Be sure to comply with all Idaho State Board of Education Policies and Procedures, Boise State University policies, and local, state and federal regulations.
Expressing Disagreement During an Event
Inside the room or event:
- You may engage in peaceful, non-disruptive protest (for example, messages on shirts, turning your back to a speaker, putting tape over your mouth) if it does not create a disturbance or prevent the speaker from communicating to the audience, or otherwise prevent audience members from hearing and seeing the event.
- Audience members may choose to leave the event as long as they do not obstruct the presentation.
- If you disrupt or obstruct the presentation and fail to comply with the directions of University officials to cease disruption or leave the area, you will violate the University’s code of conduct and/or the law. These are grounds for discipline or prosecution.
- For events held where access to the event space can be controlled/secured, event sponsors may regulate what may be brought into an event space (such as video cameras or other recording devices) and activities that attendees may engage in; regulations such as these are permitted as they relate to time/place/manner (i.e., conduct) and not content.
Outside the building, room or event:
- Peaceful protest or picketing with leaflets, petitions, singing, chanting or signs is allowed as long as it occurs in a space that is open to the public and does not disrupt the event or prevent attendees from entering or leaving the event.
- Do not block entrances or exits, impede pedestrian or vehicle traffic, or prevent others from entering, hearing, seeing, or leaving the event or speech.
- Do not use amplified sound if it will create Disruptive Noise (Noise where the sound, rhythm, melody, or instrumentation is plainly audible to the listener at a distance of 50 feet or more from the speaker or from within a building containing a classroom, staff or faculty offices, or residences).
- Do not disrupt University functions or activities (such as nearby classes) or other events or programs using reserved space.
Expressing Disagreement in Response to an Event
Before, after or during the event, you can respond to speech that you disagree with by sponsoring a separate presentation or event featuring alternative viewpoints, such as a:
If you are confronted with offensive speech or materials:
- Maintain a safe distance, and do not respond physically.
- Keep in mind that even though you find it offensive, it is very likely protected free speech.
- Consider organizing an appropriate, nonviolent response.
- Seek assistance from a University official if you feel you are being singled out or targeted or if you think that the conduct or speech violates University policy.
Controversial Speaker in a Public Area on Campus
Imagine there is a speaker on campus saying things that you deem hateful.
Is this behavior protected by the First Amendment?
Yes, it is.
Why are they allowed to be here?
The First Amendment protects nearly all speech, including speech that is annoying, rude, offensive and potentially hateful to you. On a public university campus, plazas and sidewalks are public forums where free speech can occur.
What can you do?
There are many different options you can choose. Very often, controversial speakers are deliberately provocative in an attempt to gain an audience. One option is to ignore them completely and deny them that audience. You also have the right to rebuttal. You can engage in counter speech as an extension of your First Amendment rights. Additionally, if you believe you have experienced or witnessed an act of hate, bias, discrimination or harassment, report it so the University can follow up appropriately.
What can you not do?
It is very important to note that you cannot touch any speaker, no matter how offensive you view their speech. By doing so, you might bring consequences upon yourself, while also obscuring the validity of your point of view.
A Controversial Speaker in a Classroom
Suppose that one of your professors is bringing in a guest speaker/lecturer that you believe is inappropriate or offensive.
Is this protected by the First Amendment?
Why are they allowed to be here?
It is important to note that the principles of academic freedom protect freedom of inquiry and research, freedom of teaching and freedom of expression and publication. Academic freedom offers broad discretion to educators regarding free inquiry and the exchange of ideas and opinions expressed in a university setting, and it grants universities the right to determine their educational mission without restraint. All that being said, there are still things you can do.
What can you do?
You can protest the speaker outside of the building in public areas. You can also use social media to protest and raise awareness about the speaker and your objections or points of rebuttal.
What can you not do?
You cannot disrupt the class or speaker. This may violate and subject you to student disciplinary action under the Student Code of Conduct.
A Controversial Speaker Invited to Speak on Campus
Imagine there is a speaker known to say things you deem hateful who has been invited to speak on campus by a member of faculty, staff, registered student organization or other recognized group.
Is this speech protected by the First Amendment?
Yes, it is. (However, note that speech that involves illegal conduct is not protected. For example: a threat to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person, hanging a noose on a college campus for the purpose of terrorizing members of the campus community with the knowledge that it is a symbol representing a threat to life, fighting or challenging another to fight in a public place, using “fighting words” in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction, or inciting illegal activity.
Why are they allowed to be here?
The First Amendment protects nearly all speech, including speech that is annoying, rude, offensive and potentially hateful to you. By allowing students access to use university facilities, such as auditoriums, classrooms and other buildings, to host speakers, the University has opened up such forums as public forums. Therefore, the University will not, and legally may not, discriminate based on content or viewpoint.
What can you do?
As mentioned in the previous scenario, there are many different options you can choose. Very often, controversial speakers are deliberately provocative in an attempt to gain an audience. One option is to ignore them completely and deny them that audience. You also have the right to express your disagreement during the event, outside the venue or on social media in accordance with the guidance and limitations listed above.
Additionally, if you believe you have experienced or witnessed an act of hate, bias, discrimination or harassment, report it here so the University can follow up appropriately.
What can you not do?
You may not disrupt or obstruct the presentation. You may not block attendees from entering into or exiting from the event. It is very important to note that you cannot touch any speaker, no matter how offensive you view their speech. If you do, you may be subject to student disciplinary action or arrest.
Disagreement with University Administration
Imagine you would like to protest action (or inaction in failing to prevent a speaker or a speaker’s views from being disseminated) by university administration by actively expressing your disagreement.
What can you do?
You have a range of options. You may circulate a petition or send a letter voicing your concerns to the administration. You may request to meet with University officials to discuss your concerns. You may engage in peaceful protest or picket with leaflets, singing, chanting or carrying signs in a space open to the public, such as the area outside the building.
What can you not do?
You may not engage in an occupation/sit-in of an office or other non-public space in a University building in violation of the University policy on Use of University Space. If you do, you may be subject to student disciplinary action or arrest for trespassing.
You may not block traffic into or out of the room, floor or building. You may not disrupt or obstruct University staff or officials while they are fulfilling their duties. If you do, you may be subject to student disciplinary action for disrupting or obstructing university activities including teaching, research, administration, sports and recreation events, guest speakers and other presentations, and cultural events.
You may not engage in tagging or mark University facilities with graffiti. If you do, you may be subject to student disciplinary action for destruction or damage to university property or arrest for vandalism/graffiti.
Protests and civil disobedience have played a historic role on university campuses, in bringing important and beneficial changes within society and in the development of our democracy. However, civil disobedience is not protected speech under the Constitution. 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. Civil disobedience may have a negative effect on the protected interests of others and may interfere with university business or threaten public safety or university assets in ways that require the University to act to protect those other interests.
What can the University bring disciplinary charges against me for?
The following is a list of some of the possible violations of the Student Code of Conduct:
- Destruction of or damage to university property – Student Code of Conduct Section 4.J.
- Destruction of or damage to university property
- Abuse of university electronic resources and systems – Student Code of Conduct Section 4.A.
- Physical abuse or threats – Student Code of Conduct Section 4.U., 4.B.
- Disrupting or obstructing university activities – Student Code of Conduct Section 4.L.2. and 4.L.4.
- Disorderly or lewd conduct – Student Code of Conduct Section 4.L.1
- Failure to provide identification to or comply with directions of university official – Student Code of Conduct Section 4.M.
- Failure to comply with exclusion from or order to leave university property – Student Code of Conduct Section 4.AA.
What can the police charge me with?
The following is a non-exhaustive list of violations of state law:
- Resisting, obstructing, or delaying an officer, Idaho Code 18-705
- Assault and battery, Idaho Code 18-901, 18-903
- Aggravated Assault, Idaho Code 18-905
- Riot and unlawful assembly, Idaho Code 18-6402, 18-6405
- Failure to disperse, Idaho Code 18-6410
- Disturbing the peace, Idaho Code 18-6409
- Vandalism/graffiti, Idaho Code 18-7001, 18-7036
- Trespassing, Idaho Code 18-7011
Planning an Event or Protest
Whether hosting, bringing in a controversial speaker or displaying symbolic structures on the Quad, there are many things to consider. When planning an event, a University registered student organization (URSO) must make space reservations through University Event Services. Once space is reserved, the Student Involvement and Leadership Center can help provide logistical support and guidance, including help with time, place and manner regulations, to set the stage for a successful event. Learn more by visiting The Student Involvement and Leadership Center’s website here.
Groups, organizations and individuals planning an event or protest that are not URSOs also make space reservations through the University Event Services. Reservations are not required but are recommended if you want to assure that space will be available for your event.
Time, Place and Manner Restrictions
In public forums such as the Quad, the University may not regulate the content of speech but can place reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. Examples of permissible university time, place, and manner restrictions include:
Time: Support for events such as tables are provided only during daytime hours. See policy 1100.
Place: Posting of information in university buildings is limited to designated bulletin boards. See policy 1100.
Manner: Distribution of literature may not obstruct the ingress and egress from university buildings. See policy 1100.
A more complete list of university time, place, and manner restrictions can be found in Policy 1100.
Report Violations and Concerns
Student Rights and Grievances
At Boise State University, students have constitutionally protected rights of free expression, speech, assembly and worship, as well as rights to due process and equal protection. The Office of the Dean of Students provides advice and assistance to students for answering questions and resolving concerns about their rights, and violations of the Student Code of Conduct. Please contact us if you have questions about your rights or potential violations of the Student Code of Conduct.
Discrimination occurs when an individual our group of individuals is treated adversely (for example, denied rights, benefits, equitable treatment, or access to facilities or groups open to all others) based on protected characteristics (race, color, religion, sex, gender, age, sexual orientation, pregnancy, national origin, physical or mental disability, veteran status, genetic information, or any other status protected under applicable federal, state, or local law).
Harassment is a form of discrimination. Harassment consists of unwelcome behavior that is based upon a person’s protected class. Harassment includes conduct that demeans or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual because of his or her protected class and is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for academic pursuits, employment, or participation in University sponsored activities. Harassing conduct may be verbal, written, visual or physical in nature. It includes, but is not limited to:
- Verbal abuse or hostile behavior such as insulting, name calling, teasing, mocking, degrading or ridiculing another person or group;
- Conduct that is physically offensive, harmful, threatening or humiliating such as impending or blocking movement, leering or staring;
- Unwelcome or inappropriate physical contact such as kissing, hugging pinching, patting, grabbling;
- Physical assault or stalking;
- Unwelcome or inappropriate sexual advances, flirtations, propositions, requests for sexual favors, comments, questions, epithets or demands;
The Harassment and Discrimination Assistance and Prevention Program (HDAPP) supports Boise State University’s commitment to a discrimination-free work and learning environment. To maintain your privacy and confidentiality, use the anonymous call line to discuss specific concerns related to harassment and discrimination:
- On-campus: 530-752-2255 (A-CALL)
- Off-campus: 530-752-2255
Students who believe they have experienced or witnessed an act of discrimination or harassment may initiate a report online to bring their concerns to the University’s attention so the incident may be addressed appropriately.
If you suspect a University employee has engaged in any improper governmental activities, either orally or in writing, report it to the Boise State University. Whistleblowers are protected from retaliation for filing a whistleblower report.
Report Hate and Bias
As reflected in our Statement of Shared Values, we at Boise State University are committed to confronting and rejecting “all manifestations of discrimination, including those based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, (dis)ability, sexual orientation, religious or political beliefs, status within or outside the University, or any of the other differences among people which have been excuses for misunderstanding, dissension or hatred.” Accordingly, Boise State University strives to maintain an inclusive and diverse work and learning environment free of hate and bias.
If you believe you have experienced or witnessed an act of hate or bias, report it so the University can follow up appropriately. The University keeps track of these reports and uses them to inform the campus community on climate issues of concern.
An online reporting hotline is available through the Office of Institutional Compliance and Ethics.