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?
Chalking may be used by ASUN and GSA recognized student groups and also for other approved events on campus for advertising. Chalking is allowed on sidewalks only and must comply with the following guidelines:
- Request to chalk must be emailed to the Scheduling Services office at least three working day prior to the event
- Request must state when chalking will occur, what event chalking is advertising and where chalking will be located (in proximity to what buildings)
- Chalking is to be removed within two days of conclusion of event
- Requests must include specific text to be chalked
- Request must identify the student organization the person submitting the request and all contact number (telephone, cell phone, email)
- Messages must be at least 25 feet from an entry to any building
- Messages must be writing in chalk that is water soluble
- Messages must be written only on horizontal sidewalk, but not underneath awnings at the Joe Crowley Student Union, or on any pavers or bricks.
- Messages shall not be written on any vertical surface including stair risers, building porches, building entryways, building foundations
- Message shall not be written on any outdoor athletic facility
- If chalking is not removed by the time stated, your group will be charged for clean-up
Failure to comply with these guidelines will result in the loss of the ability for the organization to do any chalking for up to one year.
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.
Is the production of sound allowed at events?
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 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and Friday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 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 Hilliard Plaza may have approved amplified sound between Noon and 1:00 p.m.
- 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, the Grand Plaza, Joe's patio, parking areas north of the Student Union, Intramural Fields and Mackay Stadium. Events with amplified sound in outdoor areas immediately adjacent to residence halls must also be approved by Residential Life and Housing.
- 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 10:00 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.