"Freedom of expression is at the core of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and it is embedded in Ball State's enduring values."
- Geoffrey S. Mearns
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.
-The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

Understanding The First Amendment

The U.S. Constitution established today’s government. The First Amendment outlines guaranteed freedoms and protections for U.S. citizens. 

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Frequently Asked Questions About the Constitution and First Amendment

The United States Constitution authorizes the federal government and serves as the country’s supreme law—meaning no federal, state, or local laws may conflict with it. In 1781, towards the end of the American Revolution that resulted in the United States gaining independence from Great Britain, the states adopted the Articles of Confederation. However, this was largely ineffective because of the limited power of the central government. Eventually, the Articles of Confederation were replaced by the Constitution in 1789. Shortly after this, the Bill of Rights—which contains the first 10 amendments to the Constitution—was also ratified. These amendments focus on protecting the rights of citizens from the federal government. For more information about the development of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, visit this website.

The First Amendment guarantees what are often referred to as the five freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, and freedom to petition the government. Specifically, the First Amendment states the following: “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.”

The U.S. Constitution relates to the federal government, and the Bill of Rights (which includes the first 10 amendments) was written to protect citizens from the overreach of the federal government. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1868 shortly after the American civil war, includes a provision indicating that no state “shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Over time, this due process clause has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court to guarantee a wide array of rights against infringement by the states, including First Amendment rights. Ball State, as a public entity in the state of Indiana, is thus subject to the First Amendment and may not violate the rights that it grants to individuals.

Freedom of speech and the other protections provided by the First Amendment are essential to our democracy and the free flow of ideas. Under this provision, citizens have the right to choose, argue, defend, and support different ideas. This is highlighted by a statement from former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “… the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas – that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market…. That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution.” Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616 (1919).

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of Speech guarantees a person right to speak to matters of public concern. Free Speech includes an individual’s right to articulate their ideas, opinions, and thoughts. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech is enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which forbids government interference in one’s right to express, broadcast, or share their views. Specifically, the First Amendment states the following: “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.” Ball State is committed to the First Amendment’s principles, as described in the University’s Statement on Rights and Responsibilities.

Speech includes spoken and written words. Over time, courts have also determined that various other things—such as clothing, armbands, online posts, political cartoons and buttons, profanity, art, dance, music, video games, gestures, symbols, and even the refusal to speak—can constitute protected speech. This is one reason why the phrase “freedom of expression” is often used interchangeably with “freedom of speech.”

Yes. Speech outside the scope of the First Amendment is considered unprotected speech. The parameters of unprotected speech are defined by the courts, and include such things as fighting words, obscenity, true threats, incitement of imminent lawless action, blackmail, defamation, perjury, child pornography, and plagiarism. If speech is unprotected, Ball State has significant leeway to regulate or punish it.

Generally, yes. The First Amendment protects speech that may be mean, hateful, or offensive toward a person or group of individuals. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that “to make hate speech unprotected is to give the government power to decide which opinions are correct.” National Socialist Party v. Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 (1977). That said, while hate speech may be protected generally, it can become unprotected if it otherwise meets the definition of a type of unprotected speech (e.g., true threats, fighting words, etc.). It can also become unprotected harassment if it meets an applicable legal standard (e.g., if it rises to the level of sexual harassment under Title IX). Ball State is committed to nondiscrimination in its programs and activities, and the University has policies that prohibit discrimination based on a protected class and procedures for addressing complaints of this nature.

Ball Sate is a public institution, and its campus—including adjacent streets and sidewalks—are public places where people have First Amendment rights. As such, the University has a duty under the law to allow people to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of expression on campus. However, protecting a person’s right to speak or otherwise express themselves does not necessarily mean the University approves or condones the message.

Yes, to an extent. Limitations on protected speech must be reasonable and content-neutral, and they cannot favor one viewpoint over another. To that end, Ball State regulates the time, place, and manner for engaging in protected speech activities through its Non-Commercial Expressive Activity and Assembly on University Property policy (PDF) and Commercial Activity on University Property policy. Some goals of these time, place, and manner regulations are to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of individuals and limit disruptions to academic programs and other University functions. These regulations apply to all students, employees, visitors, and other individuals while on campus. In addition to the above policies, the University has other general guidelines in the Policy Statement on the Selection of Campus Speakers found in the Faculty and Professional Handbook.

Not unless the speech is unprotected or is in violation of a time, place, and manner regulation as set forth in the University’s Non-Commercial Expressive Activity and Assembly on University Property policy (PDF) or Commercial Activity on University Property policy. Speculation, or even a prior history of disturbance, does not mean actual harm or violence will occur at a current or future event. Nor does it allow the University to deny the speaker an ability to speak. However, free speech principles do allow, among other things, those who oppose a speaker’s message or viewpoint to engage in counter speech and peaceful protest, although they do not provide the right to “shout down” or otherwise threaten or injure the speaker.

Freedom of Assembly

Freedom of assembly is the right to associate together and collectively promote, express, and share common ideas.

Frequently Asked Questions About Freedom of Assembly

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” This allows people to associate with others for a wide variety of reasons, including political, educational, religious, cultural, and other purposes. The U.S. Supreme Court has indicated that freedom of assembly is “a right closely allied to freedom of speech and a right which, like free speech, lies at the foundation of a free society.” Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479 (1960).

Yes. The First Amendment protects the right of people to come together to demonstrate agreement or disagreement with a particular speaker, event, idea, and similar issues. This includes protests and counter-protests. When activity like this occurs on Ball State’s campus, it must be conducted in a manner consistent with the time, place, and manner regulations found in the University’s Non-Commercial Expressive Activity and Assembly on University Property policy (PDF).

Yes. Student organizations can exercise their constitutional rights on campus, including freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. Students are encouraged to engage and get involved in student groups. For more information and resources related to student organizations, visit the Office of Student Life - Student Organizations webpage. Additional FAQs related to student organizations inviting political candidates or political officials to campus to speak can be found in the Student Organization Handbook.

Freedom of the Press

A right to communication and expression through media, including print, digital, and electronic.

Ball State University is committed to freedom of expression through its various publications that highlight the right to freedom of the press for students, staff, faculty, and the Ball State community.

See our publications:
Frequently Asked Questions About Freedom of the Press

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides for the freedom of the press. Although it is not without limits, this freedom generally is intended to protect the press from government control and to allow the media to serve as a watchdog of the government.

Student journalists enjoy First Amendment protections and student publications at public universities like Ball State can only be censored in limited circumstances. For example, student publications could potentially be restricted if invading the rights of others or publishing content that would be deemed unprotected speech (e.g., obscenity, true threats, defamation, etc.). Public universities can also regulate the non-content-based aspects of a student publication.

Academic Freedom

Academic freedom is a concept that involves faculty educational research, inquiry, and exploration that is essential to the mission of academia.

Frequently Asked Questions About Academic Freedom

Academic freedom is not a concept that is explicitly covered in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court has not directly confronted the question of whether a faculty member has a constitutional right to academic freedom.

In a case from 1967, the court at least implied that it viewed academic freedom through a First Amendment lens when it stated the following: “Our Nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, which is of transcendent value to all of us, and not merely to the teachers concerned. That freedom is therefore a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom.” Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U.S. 589 (1967). However, the court did not outline the contours of such a right at that time and has not done so since.

Also, in a 2006 case—in a setting outside of the educational sphere—the court held “that when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.” But, the court acknowledged the possible implications to the academic context and stated that “[w]e need not, and for that reason do not, decide whether the analysis we conduct today would apply in the same manner to a case involving speech related to scholarship or teaching.” Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006). With the Garcetti case reserving judgement on what the government employee speech analysis means for the concept of academic freedom, some federal circuit courts have offered opinions on the issue. However, there has not been a consensus amongst those courts.

Yes. Even though courts have not expressly defined the contours of a constitutional right to academic freedom, Ball State is committed to a faculty member’s right to academic freedom as a professional norm. To that end, Ball State’s Faculty and Professional Personnel Handbook contains several statements on academic freedom, including the following:

Academic Freedom

  • The teacher is entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of other academic duties; but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the University.
  • The teacher is entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing the appointed subject, but should be careful not to introduce a controversial matter which has no relation to the subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of the aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.
  • The University teacher is a citizen, a member of a learned profession, and an officer of an educational institution. When speaking or writing as a citizen, there should be freedom from institutional censorship or discipline, but a special position in the community imposes special obligations. As a person of learning and an educational officer, a teacher should remember that the public may judge his or her profession and this University by his or her utterances. Hence, he or she should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinion of others, and should make every effort to indicate that he or she is not an institutional spokesman.

This provision is consistent with the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

No. Not unless explicit prior authorization from the President has been received.

As an institution, Ball State can assert its own ideas and messages. The President speaks for the University and often delegates to the Vice President for Marketing and Communications to serve as official spokesperson for the University. Others may be designated to do so as well in specific circumstances. Of course, though, this is not intended to restrict the freedom of employees to engage in scholarly activities or personal involvement in community activities. Nor is it intended to affect individual employees’ rights to express personal opinions on University or non-University matters, as long as those employees make it clear that they do so as individuals and do not represent the official position of the University either directly or indirectly.

Constitution Day

September 17, 2024

Commemorating the signing of the United States Constitution.

Academic Freedom of Expression Taskforce

The Ball State Academic Freedom of Expression Taskforce is charged with identifying and developing opportunities within and across colleges to support and advance Freedom of Expression at Ball State University.

Kevonna Tyler - Freedom of Expression Coordinator

Administration Building
Room 216