Sam Houston State University is proud to be a place where students learn to speak their minds and express themselves. Our namesake, Sam Houston, wasn't afraid to take a stance, even an unpopular one. As a champion for better treatment of Native Americans, he once said:
"I am aware that in presenting myself as the advocate of the Indians and their rights, I shall stand very much alone."
SHSU has a long tradition of fostering that same spirit of free expression, and promoting the advancement of knowledge through critical thinking.
Student Engagement & Event Planning
Students will learn how to proactively engage in campus expressive activity, learn how to engage in difficult dialogue, learn about resources to cope with discomfort, learn how to plan an event, and learn how to join or create a student organization.
Expressive Activity Policy & Resources
Participants will receive an in-depth review of the SHSU Expressive Activity Policy, learn about 1st Amendment protections, and receive information on resources available to support their interests and needs.
Employee Rights & Responsibilities
Participants will learn about TSUS Rules & Regulations related to Expressive Activity, how to navigate responsibilities as an employee and a citizen, and a review on the proper use of state funds for expressive activity events.
First Amendment Deep Dive
Participants will learn about the Bill of Rights, participate in case studies, and determine how to apply their new knowledge in an educational setting.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- What is Freedom of Expression?
One of the basic freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and by most state constitutions, including, freedom of speech, press, or assembly.
- What is the First Amendment?
"Congress shall make no law restricting 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." (U. S. Const. amend I).
- What does the First Amendment Protect?
Generally, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution applies to words and symbols or images intending to convey a message. No governmental body, including the University, may restrict lawful expression based upon the content or viewpoint expressed.
However, free speech rights are not absolute. The following forms of speech are not protected:
- Obscenity - Patently offensive description of sexual activity that lacks educational value.
- Defamation - Communications made to purposely or that negligently damage someone's reputation
The following forms of expression involving illegal conduct also are not protected by the First Amendment:
- Other speech or expression involving illegal conduct.
- Obstructing a police officer
- Fighting, referred to criminally as assault
- Inciting illegal activity
- Severe, pervasive, or persistent harassment targeted at a specific individual or groups of individuals
- Unlawful assembly and refusal to disperse Note: Civil disobedience is by its very name, a violation of the law unprotected by the First Amendment. Even peaceful, civil disobedience may subject those demonstrating in this matter to criminal penalties
- Vandalism and defacing property
- Disturbance by loud and unreasonable noise
- What is hate speech and is it illegal?
"Hate speech" is not defined by law and is not an exception to the First Amendment. Thus, even when speech is hateful or offensive, content of the message cannot be restricted or prohibited by the government. Some suggest that the best way to respond to hateful or offensive speech is not to attempt to limit it but to encourage more speech. Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “… the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence." Whitney v. California, 247 U.S. 356 (1927) (Bradeis, L. concurring).
While hate speech is not an exception to the First Amendment, the First Amendment does not protect illegal conduct just because it is motivated by an individual’s beliefs or opinions. Intentional criminal behavior (not just speech or expression) arising from a bias, prejudice, or hatred is subject to additional penalties under Texas Law.
- When does speech become harassment?
Harassment is conduct sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent that the conduct creates a hostile environment substantially impairing a person's access to university programs or activities.
- Is speech on the internet and social media entitled to the same protection as speech in print and other media?
Yes. Speech or expression conveyed through the internet is entitled to First Amendment protections. Social media platforms are as legitimate an outlet for free speech as are traditional “forums” or locations for expression such as streets or parks.
- Does the First Amendment protect peaceful protests?
Peaceful protests are constitutionally protected. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution “guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government." Similarly, Article 1, Section 27 of the Texas Constitution states that “The citizens shall have the right, in a peaceable manner, to assemble together for their common good...”
However, to ensure there is no interruption of operations, a governmental body may manage speech and assembly through policies governing the time, place, and manner of such activities. Such policies must be reasonable and content-neutral. In other words, the policies must be uniformly applied regardless of the topic or viewpoint of the speaker. For more information refer to the SHSU Expressive Activity Policy.
- When, Where, and How can one engage in expression?
The government may establish reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on speech so long as the restrictions do not relate to the content of the expression, are narrowly tailored, serve a significant governmental interest, and leave open other channels for communication. For more information refer to the SHSU Expressive Activity Policy.
Examples of permissible university time, place, and manner restrictions include:
- To ensure classes are not interrupted there are certain time, place, and manner restrictions outlined in the SHSU Expressive Activity Policy.
- As a government entity is charged with an educational mission, SHSU specifies areas or “forums” available for expression, and may limit use of certain portions of the campus when it finds it necessary for ongoing educational operations. For more information refer to the SHSU Expressive Activity Policy.
- Regulations related to the forum or manner, but not the content of the expression, are in place to ensure the safety and uninterrupted education for our students. Such rules may include a limitation on distribution of literature in areas that may obstruct the ingress and egress of university buildings, or use of certain materials (like chalk) that may create a labor or maintenance issue for SHSU. For more information refer to the SHSU Expressive Activity Policy.
- When is a demonstration unlawful?
Sometimes demonstrators decide to engage in civil disobedience or unlawful assembly. When an activity, even if conducted peacefully, violates the law, those engaging in expression may be subject to criminal penalties. Possible crimes that result from civil disobedience are:
- Disorderly Conduct
- intentionally or knowingly uses abusive or vulgar language in a public place to incite a breach of peace
- making an obscene gesture in a public place to incite a breach of peace
- creating, by chemical means, an unreasonable odor in a public place
- abusing or threatening a person in a public place in an obviously obscene manner
- making unreasonable noise in a public place
- fighting with another in a public place
- displaying in a manner to alarm or discharging a firearm in public place
- exposing genitals or anus in public place
- looking into or entering the dwelling, property, guest room, bathroom, changing area of another person for lewd or unlawful purposes
- Disrupting a Meeting - intentionally prevents, disrupts or interferes a lawful meeting, procession, or gathering by physical action or verbal utterance
- Obstructing Highway or Other passageway - Obstructs highway, street, sidewalk, railway, waterway, elevator, aisle, hallway, entrance, or exit of public access and disobeyed reasonable request or order to move by person with authority to control the premise
- Riot - creates an immediate danger of damage to property or injury to other persons; substantially obstructs law enforcement or other governmental functions or services; or by force, threat of force, or physical action deprives any person of a legal right or disturbs any person in the enjoyment of a legal right
- Vandalism - action involving deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property
- Disorderly Conduct
- What is academic freedom?
The principles of academic freedom protect freedom of inquiry and research, freedom of teaching and freedom of expression and publication. These freedoms enable the university to advance knowledge and to transmit it effectively to its students and the public.
- How does the University foster academic freedom?
The university also seeks to foster in its students a mature independence of mind, and this purpose cannot be achieved unless students and faculty are free within the classroom to express the widest range of viewpoints in accord with the standards of scholarly inquiry and professional ethics. Course content should be restricted to the subject being taught.