Free Speech

The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, of the press, of association, of assembly, and of petition from suppression by the government. These constitutional guarantees, collectively known as the right to freedom of expression, are essential to the mission of Binghamton University.

Nine Points on First Amendment Protection

i. The First Amendment protects free, uncensored expression of ideas, even those which many would consider offensive, bigoted, or vulgar. Binghamton University allows all views, popular or unpopular, to be expressed, debated, supported, and countered.

ii. First Amendment protection extends to "pure speech" as well as "symbolic speech." This means that speech in the form of books, flyers, and the spoken word enjoys the same protection as the expression of ideas through tee-shirts, theater productions, music, and other means.

iii. Some kinds of speech do not enjoy First Amendment protection, including fraudulent misrepresentation, defamation, incitement to "imminent lawless" behavior, invasion of privacy, obscenity, and "fighting words" (i.e., words that "inflict injury" or tend to "incite an immediate breach of peace"). Criminal behavior may be reported to the New York State University Police.

iv. Expression that crosses the line from speech to conduct is not protected by the First Amendment. Acts of violence or harassment, for example, are prohibited by law and by the University's codes of conduct and professional standards.

v. The University cannot and does not limit freedom of speech even if an individual's values and ideals are challenged by that speech. For example, the University's efforts to create a culturally diverse learning environment may not be furthered at the expense of free speech.

vi. Sometimes the line between protected speech and unprotected conduct is very fine. Symbols of hate, such as swastikas, have legal protection in public forums such as protests, rallies, and parades. However, threatening phone calls or e-mail messages and the desecration of private property such as cross-burnings or graffiti are illegal.

vii. The First Amendment does allow speech to be subject to reasonable and nondiscriminatory restrictions. These restrictions must be "content-neutral," specific and limited in nature, time and place, and they must allow alternative means for free expression. At Binghamton University certain places are specifically identified as "public" forums. These areas, including the main lobby of the University Union and campus streets and sidewalks, are accorded the greatest latitude for the expression of individual ideas on campus.

viii. Administrative offices and classrooms, as settings for specifically defined purposes, are not "public" forums. The University may limit freedom of expression in these and other non-public forums as long as the limitations are "content-neutral." For further information go to the student handbook.

ix. The best response to offensive speech is usually more speech. Any attempt on the part of the University to suppress offensive views is nothing more than government censorship. Compromising the speech rights of one individual or group of individuals only jeopardizes everyone's rights. Each of us, however, as members of the University community, can counter offensive speech with rational, persuasive speech. Indeed, doing so is the responsibility of each of us who wish to live in a civil society.


University Ombudsman
Binghamton University
PO Box 6000
Binghamton, NY 13902

Phone: 607-777-2388
Fax: 607-777-2556

Last Updated: 3/16/16