Freedom of Expression
The University of Houston System is committed to fostering a learning environment where free inquiry and expression are encouraged at each of its universities. The System expects that persons engaging in expressive activities will demonstrate civility, concern for the safety of persons and property, respect for university activities, respect for those who may disagree with their message, and compliance with applicable System and university policies and applicable local, state, and federal laws.
- True threats: Those are statements in which the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.
- Fighting words: Words that are likely to incite violence or imminent lawless action.
- Impeding access to any campus buildings or facility or other public spaces on campus, obstructing the free flow of vehicular or pedestrian traffic or materially and substantially disrupting university business (group can be dispersed or asked to move depending on situation).
- Violating university policies (for example, policies against open flames, littering, posting, discrimination and harassment, sexual misconduct, etc.).
- Other actions that would violate state or federal law (for example, actual violence, damaging property, selling drugs).
- Obscenity, which is defined by the U.S. Supreme Court as:
- whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
- whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and
- whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
- Defamatory statements. A statement may be defamatory (and unprotected) if it is an intentional and false statement about an individual communicated to a third party, resulting in damage to the individual’s reputation.
Hate speech or hateful speech is generally defined as “[s]peech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability or any other similar ground.” Although some would argue or believe hate speech is not protected, generally that is not the case. Though offensive, it may not necessarily fall under one of the exceptions to First Amendment free speech protection listed in Answer 4 above and therefore would be allowed. In fact, on many occasions, the U.S. Supreme Court has explicitly held that prohibitions or punishments for hateful speech violate the First Amendment. However, the US. Supreme Court has also said that speech that directly incites imminent criminal activity or consists of specific threats of violence targeted against a person or group is not protected under the First Amendment.
Although UH cannot ban all hate speech on campus, UH does not condone or endorse hate speech.
If a person or group wants to reserve a particular place on campus for expressive activities, there are six areas of campus which are available for prior reservation for UH faculty, staff, students, and members of registered student organizations:
- Lynn Eusan Park: The park area located northwest of the Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management and southeast of the Ezekiel Cullen Building (Area A on the campus map in MAPP 01.05.01).
- Student Center Plaza: The paved area located on the western half of the space between Student Center South and Student Center North (Area B on the campus map in MAPP 01.05.01).
- Student Center Satellite, Patio/Hill: The patio/hill area located at the southeast entrance to the Student Center Satellite (Area C on the campus map in MAPP 01.05.01).
- Butler Plaza: The plaza bounded by the Ezekiel Cullen Building, M. D. Anderson Library, the Technology Annex, and Phillip G. Hoffman Hall (Area D on the campus map).
- Cougar Woods Arboretum: The grassy area located west of the Cougar Woods Dining Hall between the Dining Hall and Cullen Boulevard (Area E on the campus map).
- Student Center Circle: The area in front of the Student Center South (Area F on the campus map).
- All activities should be peaceful, non-violent, and non-threatening.
- Refrain from any activity that infringes on the rights of others, such as blocking and preventing the movement or access of others, or that materially and substantially disrupts University business.
- Avoid conduct which unduly interferes with the expressive activities of others on campus, such as disrupting a speaker’s ability to be heard at a scheduled event.
- Follow the lawful instructions of University administrators or police, such as staying behind barricades, dispersing from an area declared an unlawful assembly, or not resisting arrest. It is against the law to disobey a lawful order by a police officer.
- Leave the area where others are engaging in illegal activities or acts of violence. Remaining in the area could be interpreted as your choosing to participate in the illegal activities or acts of violence, even if that is not your intent.
- Refrain from speech that incites others to commit acts of violence such as pushing, kicking, or spitting on others, destruction of property, or other unlawful actions.
- Carrying an open flame is prohibited unless approval is granted in advance by the Director of Environmental Health, Safety, and Risk Management, or designee.
It depends. Amplified sound may be used in the following circumstances:
The use of amplified sound is permitted in the reservable areas listed in Answer 8 above, with the exception of Butler Plaza. Amplified sound may only occur from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 4:00 p.m. to midnight on class days, and from 8:00 a.m. to midnight on non-class days. Amplified sound may not exceed 75 decibels levels.
Amplified sound will be measured at the edges of the surrounding buildings. For the purposes of this policy, dB shall mean the intensity of sound expressed in decibels read from the A-level weighting scale and the slow meter response as specified by the American National Standards Institute.
Yes. Individuals or groups of individuals engaging in activities that are materially and substantially disruptive to the normal operations of the University including classes and University business activities, or who fail to comply with University policies and applicable local, state, and federal laws may face immediate removal from the campus and/or other appropriate actions by University officials and University police.
Additionally, any person that participates in unlawful expressive activity, or that unduly interferes with the Expressive Activities of others on campus, including at an Official University Event or Activity, may be subject to disciplinary action, as outlined in the student codes of conduct, in policies relating to faculty or staff discipline, or in policies or laws relating to visitors on campus.
- is not conducted in a University common area,
- attracts an audience of 50 or more people,
- materially and substantially disrupts University business or classes,
- blocks building access, or
- creates traffic hazards.