First Amendment FAQ
The First Amendment
"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."
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects our most basic freedoms and we encourage our students to practice their First Amendment rights.
What does the First Amendment protect?
The First Amendment protects several basic liberties from government interference. It prohibits any laws that:
- Establish a National Religion
- Endorse or support one religion over another
- Impede the free exercise of religion
- Abridge the freedom of speech
- Infringe upon the freedom of the press
- Interfere with the right to peaceably assemble
- Prohibit citizens from petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances
The following forms of speech are not protected by the First Amendment:
- Obscenity (e.g., child pornography)
- Fighting words, i.e. abusive language, exchanged face to face, which would likely provoke a violent reaction or immediately lead to a fight. Mere offensiveness does not qualify as fighting words.
- Incitement to immediate violence or lawless action. Words which are intended and likely to incite the action and in fact, do produce such action.
- Threats of violence. This encompasses those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals. Intimidation is a type of true threat, where a speaker directs a threat to a person or group of persons with the intent of placing the victim in fear of bodily harm or death.
- Illegal Conduct. Illegal conduct is not protected because it is not speech and it violates the law. Examples follow:
- Obstruction of a police officer
- Willful disturbance of any lawful meeting (must "substantially impair" the meeting by intentional conduct in violation of implicit or explicit rules for the meeting that violator knew or should have known).
- Unlawful assembly and refusal to disperse.
- Vandalism and defacing property of another.
- Disturbance by loud and unreasonable noise.
Does the First Amendment protect civil disobedience on campus?
Civil disobedience is non-violent unlawful action as a form of protest. Civil disobedience is not protected under the Constitution. The Constitution does not guarantee any right to engage in civil disobedience, as it 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 is the University of Nevada, Reno’s Mission and Values?
"Inspired by its land-grant foundation, the University of Nevada, Reno provides outstanding learning, discovery, and engagement programs that serve the economic, social, environmental, and cultural needs of the citizens of Nevada, the nation, and the world. The University recognizes and embraces the critical importance of diversity in preparing students for global citizenship and is committed to a culture of excellence, inclusion, and accessibility."
- Excellence in all of our endeavors.
- Integrity in all our actions
- Inclusiveness of diverse cultures and identities
- Collaboration between disciplines and programs and with community partners and stakeholders
What is hate speech and is it illegal?
Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens or insults people or groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability or other traits. Even if speech is hateful or offensive, it is still protected under the First Amendment. However, a person's conduct or behavior can be prohibited if it is verbal abuse, intimidation, coercion or bullying which is sufficiently several, persistent or pervasive so as to interfere with or limit a student's ability to participate in or benefit from the education services, activities or opportunities offered by the University.
If you believe you have been subjected to any verbal abuse, intimidation, coercion or bullying which is interfering with or limiting your ability to participate in or benefit from the education services, activities or opportunities offered by the university, report the incident or conduct to law enforcement, University of Nevada, Reno Police Department, or the Title IX office.
Hate and Bias Hotline - (775) 784-7707
What is academic freedom?
Freedom in teaching is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student in learning. Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth and knowledge. A member of the faculty has freedom and an obligation, in the classroom or in research, to discuss and pursue the faculty member's subject with candor and integrity, even when the subject requires consideration of topics which may be politically, socially or scientifically controversial. NSHE Code, Title 2, Chapter 2, Section 2.1.
When does speech become harassment?
If a person's conduct or behavior is verbal abuse, intimidation, coercion or bullying which is sufficiently several, persistent or pervasive so as to interfere with or limit a student's ability to participate in or benefit from the education services, activities or opportunities offered by the University, this behavior could rise to the level of harassment under University rules and regulations as well as federal law.
If you are a victim of harassment or discrimination, please contact the EO/TIX Office at (775) 784- 1547 or the Harassment and Discrimination hotline at (775) 784-7707.
Is speech on the internet and social media entitled to the same level of protection as speech in print and other media?
"Yes. In the case Reno v. ACLU, the Supreme Court rejected the government's argument that speech on the internet could be more carefully regulated as it is with radio and television broadcasting and concluded that the internet, as with print media, should be given the full protection of the First Amendment. Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844 (1997)."
Online hate speech, or "cyberhate," can consist of non-threatening offensive, insulting or prejudicial messages, photos, or videos that appear on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. These acts are not unlawful. Many of these platforms do have policies prohibiting hateful speech and allow individuals to make online complaints in regards to hateful messaging.
Is chalking permitted on campus?
Any University Group as that term is defined in UAM 5,302 may chalk on sidewalks for the limited purpose of advertising the time, date, location and sponsor of University Events as that term is defined in UAM 5,302 or University approved Events or Major Events sponsored by ASUN, recognized ASUN clubs, GSA and recognized GSA clubs. Chalking is not allowed for general messages or programming. Permission to chalk must be received from the Associate Vice President for Student Services or his or her designee for chalking in front of the Joe Crowley Student Union, the E. L. Wiegand Fitness Center and residence halls and from the Associate Vice President of Planning, Budget & Analysis or his or her designee for chalking in all other areas. All chalking shall comply with the chalking guidelines (Scheduling Services).
Is posting permitted on campus?
Printed materials (as well as handwritten material) include posters, signs, circulars, newspapers, pamphlets, handbills, fliers, announcements, graffiti or statements and similar material.
Are we allowed to have amplified sound at our events?
The University of Nevada, Reno's primary mission is to serve as an academic institution. The production of sound, either amplified or non-amplified, in conjunction with an outdoor event or speech activity should not disrupt educational activities and other University business. Outdoor events which use amplified sound equipment are prohibited on the University campus, except under guidelines, procedures and policies specified in this section of the UAM (University Sound Policy, 5,440).
Time, Place and Manner
- Sound amplification equipment is prohibited outdoors on the University campus, except in the locations and times listed below.
- Regular business hours are Monday through Thursday 7:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Friday 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. for spring and fall semesters. During regular business hours, amplified sound is prohibited in all areas south of the Fitzgerald Student Services Building except for the Manzanita Bowl, Barnes Plaza and Richard Bryan Plaza.
- Outdoor locations where amplified sound may be approved during regular hours of operation include but are not limited to: the Manzanita Bowl, the Knowledge Center Lawn, outdoor event spaces contiguous to the Joe Crowley Student Union, parking areas north of the Student Union, Intramural Fields and Mackay Stadium. Events with amplified sound in outdoor areas immediately adjacent to residence halls shall also be approved by Residential Life and Housing
- Amplified sound is prohibited adjacent to the Center for Molecular Medicine and Nellor Biomedical Sciences Building.
- During the Final Class Meeting Week, when final examinations are held, no events involving amplified sound will be scheduled from 7:00 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. No exceptions will be granted during this period, which starts on the first day of finals and runs through the last day of scheduled finals.
In rare cases, organizations may request an exception to policy.
- Undergraduate student organization requests for exceptions may be submitted for consideration with a reservation request for use of outdoor space through the SEAB. The SEAB shall review the exception request. If approved, the SEAB shall submit the justification for the exception to the Associate Vice President for Student Life Services and then to Scheduling Services.
- Graduate student organization requests for exceptions shall be submitted to the Dean of the Graduate School for review and then to Scheduling Services.
- University Group group requests for exceptions may be submitted for consideration with a reservation request to Scheduling Services for use of Outdoor Areas and Special Use Outdoor Areas, as those terms are defined in section 5,302.
All requests for exceptions must be submitted at least 30 calendar days in advance.
The type of sound requested, the time of the event and the proximity of the location to classrooms, outdoor instructional area, and residence halls shall be taken into consideration before any exception is granted. Exceptions are not simply granted upon request.