Office of Civic Engagement

Freedom of Speech

The First Amendment provides that: 

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.


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  • What is protected under the First Amendment?

    Freedom of speech is the right of a person to articulate opinions and ideas without interference or retaliation from the government. The term “speech” constitutes expression that includes far more than just words, but also what a person wears, reads, performs, protests and more.

    In the United States, freedom of speech is strongly protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as well as many state and federal laws. The United States’ free speech protections are among the strongest of any democracy; the First Amendment protects even speech that many would see as offensive, hateful or harassing. identity. 

  • How does the First Amendment right to free speech apply to controversial speakers who have been invited to Chico State by student groups?

    The Constitution prohibits any public institution, from banning or punishing speech based on its content or viewpoint. Because campus policy permits Recognized Student Organizations(opens in new window) to invite speakers to campus and provides access to campus venues for that purpose, the university cannot take away that right or withdraw those resources based on the views of the invited speaker. Doing so would violate the First Amendment rights of the student group.

    Only under extraordinary circumstances, described below in the "Which types of speech are not protected by the First Amendment?" section, can an event featuring a speaker invited this way be cancelled.

    Secondly, once a speaker has been invited by a student group, the campus is obligated and committed to acting reasonably to ensure that the speaker is able to safely and effectively address their audience, free from violence or disruption.

  • Which types of speech are not protected by the First Amendment

    Fighting words(opens in new window) Speech used to incite physical retaliation

    True Threats(opens in new window)Threatening violence or crime

    Violation of Copy Right Rules(opens in new window)Breaching the copy right laws

    Defamation(opens in new window)Defaming another person through libel, slander, or blackmail.

  • When does speech become harassment?

    When intimidating or threatening speech is targeted at a student or group of students repeatedly, speech becomes harassment

  • What is hate speech and is it illegal?

    Hate speech(opens in new window) is abusive or threatening speech or writing directed towards a person, or group, based on race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, sex disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. 

    Hate speech is not explicitly illegal under the First Amendment. However, Chico State condemns violence, harassment, and demeaning actions of any sort, for any reason, including culturally offensive stereotypes and personal attacks. Any reports of taunting, harassing, and of course, any threats and/or physical violence will be dealt with swiftly.  

  • Can Chico State cancel a student-sponsored event if the administration and/or the majority of the campus community disagrees with the speaker’s views?

    No, this would violate established law and the rights of student groups to invite whoever they wish to the campus. Only student groups who invite speakers have the authority to disinvite them.

    As a community of educators free speech is important to CSU’s mission of teaching and learning. Many ideas now fundamental to our understanding of the universe and our place in it – such as evolution or climate change – were initially attacked. Freedom of speech is so important to the university that one of the university’s bedrock principles is academic freedom, which protects faculty in their research and teaching, as well as the speech of students

President Hutchinson's Commitment to Inclusivity and Freedom of Expression:

"At Chico State, we work diligently to find ways to balance our values and commitments to diversity and inclusivity and the right to freedom of expression. We live in politically and emotionally charged times, and our campus is not isolated from these challenges. As we pursue our educational mission in a diverse community, it is likely you will come into contact with those who hold beliefs that differ from your own or that you find offensive.

In preparing students for the world after graduation, we must show that we can choose when and where to engage in thoughtful dialogue, and when to walk away. We can choose to research and develop our own opinions on local or global issues. We can choose to lean on our communities for strength and cultivate our inner resilience. I realize this is no easy task, but I hope you will join me in making Chico State a place where everyone can thrive."

The ACLU in response to hate speech

Since its founding in 1920, the ACLU has fought for the free expression of all ideas, popular or unpopular. Where racist, misogynist, homophobic, and transphobic speech is concerned, the ACLU believes that more speech — not less — is the answer most consistent with our constitutional values. Censoring so-called hate speech also runs counter to the long-term interests of the most frequent victims of hate: racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities. We should not give the government the power to decide which opinions are hateful, for history has taught us that government is more apt to use this power to prosecute minorities than to protect them. 

At the same time, freedom of speech does not prevent punishing conduct that intimidates, harasses, or threatens another person, even if words are used. Threatening phone calls, for example, are not constitutionally protected.

The U.S. Supreme Court on its 2011 decision to support the Westboro Baptist Church homophobic protest:

Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as
it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the
speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure than we do not stifle public debate.