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.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly and petition. The First Amendment reads as follows:
"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." (emphasis added)
The First Amendment is applicable not just to Congress and the federal government, but to state and local public officials and entities as well, including UC San Diego.
Protection of speech by the First Amendment is intended to encourage the free flow of ideas and to protect individuals whose speech may be considered unpopular or dissentious.
While the First Amendment is very broad in its application, there are certain types of speech and expression that are not protected by the First Amendment. Attempts to regulate these types of unprotected speech generally fall into one of two categories: "content regulations" and "conduct regulations."
Some laws and policies are drafted with the intention of preventing the expression of specific ideas and messages. Such attempts to regulate content are presumptively impermissible. Still, there are certain—though very limited—types of speech that are not protected by the First Amendment and are subject to regulation. However, despite the above exceptions, the First Amendment protects virtually all speech, no matter how unorthodox, offensive, or distasteful. See, e.g., United States v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310, 318 (1990); Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 414 (1989); Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 20 (1971). The categories listed above are extremely narrow, and courts will tend towards finding speech to be protected under the First Amendment, no matter how hateful or offensive it may be.
Certain laws and policies (such as the UC San Diego Policy on Free Speech, Advocacy and Distribution of Literature on University Grounds) regulate the conduct pertaining to speech and expression, including the time, place, and manner of the speech, regardless of the content or message. Conduct regulations are more frequently protected by courts than content regulations so long as they are “content-neutral,” i.e., they do not attempt to forbid the communication of specific ideas.
Contact Student Legal Services, (858) 534-4374.