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Free Speech and How to Express Your Message if You Disagree

Find out how to express your message if you disagree with the content of a student-sponsored event or program.

Note:

Issues pertaining to freedom of speech and expression can be very complicated and confusing. This website is intended only to provide a brief outline about freedom of speech and expression, and is not meant to serve as legal advice. If you are a currently registered UC San Diego student, you may wish to contact Student Legal Services at (858) 534-4374 to schedule an appointment in order to discuss a particular question or issue.

Before, after, or during the program

  • Write guest editorials or send letters to campus newspapers, Associated Students/campus resources, 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 university policies and local, state, and federal regulations.

During the program

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 program.
  • Audience members may choose to leave the event as long as they do not obstruct the presentation.
  • If you disrupt or obstruct the presentation repeatedly or for a prolonged period of time, 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 programs 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 disturb 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 program or speech.
  • Do not use amplified sound unless allowed by applicable university sound policies.
  • Do not disrupt university functions or activities (such as nearby classes) or other events or programs using reserved space.

In response to a program

Before, after, or during the program, you can respond to speech that you disagree with by sponsoring a separate presentation or program featuring alternative viewpoints, such as a:

  • Teach-in
  • Public forum
  • Vigil
  • Counter-demonstration
  • Exhibit

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 to be protected free speech (see: Freedom of speech and expression 101).
  • 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.