Lucee Laursen’s Oct. 9 column contains factual misstatements and overgeneralizations that obscure her well-intentioned point about free speech. She characterizes the UI’s regulations on the use of outdoor facilities as straight up “unconstitutional” but offers no legal analysis to support this characterization. This is because she misstates the law on the issue.
Traditional public forums, such as parks and sidewalks, enjoy strong First Amendment protection. The government may not prohibit any expression based on the content of the speech in these forums. For instance, the government cannot prohibit speech that criticizes the military. The government can, however, regulate expression in public forums in a “content-neutral” manner based on the time, place, and manner of the restrictions. For instance, the government can prohibit loud demonstrations across the street from a hospital.
Besides being content-neutral, restrictions on the use of public forums must serve a significant governmental interest and allow ample alternative forums. When it comes to use of outdoor facilities at UI, these significant interests might include restricting expression that imperils public safety, interferes significantly with classes, or damages the grounds.
Laursen alleges no instances of content-based discrimination, and her contention that time, place, and manner restrictions are “unconstitutional” is exactly false. The time, place, and manner test is the legal rule that the Supreme Court set down for restrictions on expression in public forums, so long as those restrictions are also narrowly tailored for an important governmental interest; see, for instance, Ward v. Rock Against Racism (1989).
The value of the First Amendment cannot be overstated. However, it does a disservice to argue for free speech while inaccurately stating the law on the issue. If we understand what restrictions are allowed, we can recognize which are not allowed, and we can better protect our freedoms for the future.
— Luke Cole
Second-year UI law student