Freedom of Expression
Education occurs through the presentation and discussion of differing points of view. At the University of West Georgia (UWG) part of the educational mission is the belief that education requires all individuals to freely express themselves in a civil manner, even when one’s beliefs and values are contrary to those of the majority. In support of the U.S. Constitution, the laws of the State of Georgia, and the mission of UWG, the University will support the free exchange of ideas and beliefs shared by its students, staff, faculty, administration, and guests. Sponsorship of a speaker does not constitute endorsement of the expressed views. Learn more about the University System of Georgia's Freedom of Expression policy.
Freedom of Expression at the University of West Georgia
THE FIRST AMENDMENT OF THE CONSTITUTION: 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.
“But, above all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.” - Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley (1972)
The First Amendment generally projects all speech, although the following areas of speech have lesser degrees of protection:
- Obscenity (e.g.,child pornography)
- Defamation and/or libel
- Expression that involves illegal conduct, including but not limited to the following:
- Willful disturbance of a lawful meeting
- Inciting Illegal activity
- Unlawful assembly and refusal to disperse
- Vandalism and defacing property of another
- Disturbance by loud and unreasonable noise
- Fighting or challenging another person to fight in a public place
- Hanging a noose on a college campus for the purpose of terrorizing members of the campus community with the knowledge that it is a symbol representing a threat to life
- Obstruction of a police officer
- Use of offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction (such as fighting words).
- Criminal threat: meaning any person who willfully threatens to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person, with the specific intent that the statement is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent of actually carrying it out. The threat must, on immediate, and specific as to cause the person threatened to reasonably fear for his or her own safety or for his or her immediate family’s safety
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Freedom of Expression
Civil disobedience is not protected speech under the Constitution. The Constitution does not guarantee any right to engage in civil disobedience, which, by its very definition, involves the violation of laws or regulations, without incurring consequences. Civil disobedience may have a negative effect on the protected interest 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.
The term “hate speech” is not defined by law, and no such category exists as an exception to the First Amendment. Even if speech is hateful or offensive, it is still protected by the First Amendment
Harassment is defined as verbal or physical conduct that unreasonably interferes with a person’s work or education, or creates a hostile or offensive working or educational environment when that conduct is based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender, pregnancy, physical or mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation, citizenship or service in the uniformed services.
Please review the University's policies and procedures on harassment for more information.
Yes. Internet and social media speech have the same protections as speech in print or via other media platforms.
The University does not prohibit photographs being taken in public places, including when a protest is in a public place.
No. The University makes provisions for a speaker to publicly address the campus via outdoor venues. Speakers can be hired to come to campus who may express viewpoints in opposition to the majority. The University cannot deny a speaker from presenting solely on the content of their speech, but may regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to assure equal opportunity for all persons, preserve order within the University Community, protect and preserve University property, and provide a secure environment to individuals exercising freedom of expression.
Please see our Freedom of Expression Policy and Associated Campus Use Procedure for additional information.
No, free speech zones which limit the ability for a speaker to share information to the public are not permissible. However, speakers cannot interrupt the flow of traffic around the campus, block entrances to buildings, or interfere with the learning environment.
You may engage in peaceful, non-disruptive protest, so long as the protest does not disrupt the event taking place (for example, creating a disturbance, preventing the speaker from communicating with an audience, or otherwise preventing audience members from seeing or hearing the event).