Campus Free Expression Act FAQ

Members of the UCF community – and members of the public with no connection to the university – are not limited to any particular outdoor areas of campus for the purposes of engaging in speech and other expressive activities, and are not required reserve space. This is similar to the rights students have always had to use the campus grounds. Students and student groups are welcome to make reservations with the Office of Student Involvement to use certain campus locations for organized gatherings or other events. But keep in mind that other campus regulations may apply depending on the nature of the gathering or demonstration – for example, a large gathering or a march or highly amplified sound may be subject to additional requirements to ensure safety and continuity of campus operations.

The Campus Free Expression Act, at Florida Statutes s. 1004.097, is a law directed at public colleges and universities in Florida. The Act directs public colleges and universities to allow visitors to freely use “outdoor areas of campus” for expressive activities; permits the college or university to establish reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on such use; prohibits “free speech zones” or policies that restrict speech to particular areas of the campus; and prohibits students, faculty, or staff of the public college or university from materially disrupting previously scheduled or reserved activities on the campus.

The Act addresses “outdoor areas of campus,” which are defined as outdoor spaces on the campus to which all members of the campus community are commonly allowed. The Act specifically talks about grassy areas, walkways, and similar “common areas.”

The Act defines “outdoor areas of campus” in a way that excludes “outdoor areas of campus to which access is restricted.” At UCF, this includes such outdoor areas as athletic fields, recreational fields, Burnett House grounds, the yards of individual Greek Park Housing units, and the Creative School for Children yard and playground.

The Act says that “material and substantial disruption” means “any conduct that intentionally and significantly hinders another person’s or group’s expressive rights.” The Act also says that “material and substantial disruption” does NOT include “conduct that is protected under the First Amendment” including such First Amendment conduct as “lawful protests and counterprotests in the outdoor areas of campus or minor, brief, or fleeting nonviolent disruptions that are isolated or brief in duration.” We believe that this definition, in less legal terms, says that material and substantial disruption means that the expressive rights of another are so interfered with that they effectively cannot exercise their rights to engage in expressive activities. What is clear is that a peaceful counterprotest is not materially and substantially disruptive unless it makes it unreasonable for a speaker to try to continue their expressive activity.

No. Students and student groups can make reservations to hold events or assemblies in outdoor areas of campus. Please work with the Office of Student Involvement if you wish to do so. UCF believes that campus departments, students, and student groups constitute a special constituency when it comes to UCF, its resources and its campus. Also, remember that speakers engaged in a previously scheduled event cannot be disrupted by a speaker who shows up unannounced and wants to use the same space – the one with the reservation/previously scheduled activity will have priority in the space.

Market Day is an organized and prescheduled event where vendors make reservations – so the event space will be restricted to the purposes of the event. Commercial speech is speech in which the individual is engaged in commerce, the intended audience is actual or potential consumers (or is commercial), and the content of the message is commercial. Basically, commercial speech is when someone is trying to sell something or otherwise engage in a transaction for some value – the value doesn’t have to be monetary.

No. UCF recognizes that campus is home for many students – and, therefore, UCF does not permit speakers or events between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, or between midnight and 8 a.m. Friday and Saturday. UCF does not allow individuals or groups to be disruptive when they engage in expressive activities. For example, a speaker cannot block traffic or interfere with people’s ability to get in and out of campus buildings. A speaker cannot use amplified sound unless specifically permitted by UCF. A speaker cannot locate himself right outside of a classroom and speak in a manner that disrupts a class. A speaker cannot interfere with the rights of others to speak – so, a speaker cannot use the space being used by another speaker who has a reservation, cannot disrupt a campus event occurring at the same time, and cannot shout down another speaker. Additionally, UCF does not allow speakers to violate the law – so UCF does not permit speakers to be violent, to damage property, or to criminally threaten or assault others.

It depends. Outdoor areas of campus are public. If the conversation is occurring in an “outdoor area of campus” and a student, employee or visitor is purposely speaking loudly enough to be heard by passers-by, or the conversation is occurring where the speaker knows that others can listen in, then the speaker likely has no reasonable expectation of privacy in that setting, and the speaker can be recorded and that recording can be posted online. But if the participants in a conversation are trying not to be overheard and have positioned themselves away from others, even if they are in an outdoor area of campus, they may have a reasonable expectation of privacy in that conversation and, if so, should not be recorded. Some people visit campus to talk about controversial topics, hoping to get into a heated debate with our students, record the encounter, and then post it in a way that casts a negative light on our students. Just remember, you have no obligation to stop and listen to or engage with anyone. Likewise, if you are the one speaking, nobody has to stop and listen to or engage with you.

If you did not reserve the space for your plans, then the speaker who is there before you has priority in that space at that time. There are plenty of other outdoor spaces on campus – just find another one and go there with your friends to talk politics. And, remember to talk to the Office of Student Involvement about making a reservation for future gatherings of your group.

Speech cannot be restricted by UCF because of the offense or emotional distress that it causes. “Hate speech” is a term that does not have a hard-and-fast definition in the law, because people use the term in various ways. But to the extent that “hate speech” is defined as speech expressing generalized hatred of a particular group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, sexual expression, political leanings, sex, age or disability, then, yes, people can come to campus and engage in hate speech – so long as they do not become disruptive to campus operations or violate the law in doing so. This is a hard thing for many people to accept, but it is the result of the historical placement of free speech as one of the most strongly protected rights in our country. The First Amendment does have limits. For example, the First Amendment does not protect speech where a speaker targets a particular individual (or small identified group of individuals) for harm, such as a true threat of physical violence. The First Amendment also does not protect targeted unlawful harassment, the frequency and severity of which effectively denies an individual's ability to participate in or benefit from education, employment or university programs and activities. The First Amendment also does not protect a speaker who disrupts campus operations while speaking, such as by blocking the entrance to a building. If a speaker’s behavior violates the law or disrupts the functioning of the university, it can be stopped. This is a very brief summary of what is a very complicated area of the law, so please understand that this answer is necessarily incomplete.

Generally, displaying a sign is a speech activity if the sign is displayed on public property and relates to a matter of public concern. Since most speech is protected by the First Amendment, such signs can only be removed if they belong in one of the limited classes of unprotected speech (i.e., obscenity, profanity, libel, or “fighting words”), or if removing the signs serves a compelling government interest and the removal is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. Courts have held that pictures of mutilated fetuses used in abortion protests do not fall into any of the categories of unprotected speech, but by their nature convey a powerful message on a divisive social issue in our country. While the signs are disturbing to many members of our community, and capable of causing emotional distress, the First Amendment does not permit the university to prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds it disagreeable. As long as protesters’ signs are obeying the University’s content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions, they are protected First Amendment speech.

All UCF Police officers take an oath to protect and uphold the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment guaranteeing free speech. UCFPD may respond to campus events, assemblies and demonstrations to protect all individuals’ rights to lawful free expression and to keep the peace. Officers are not there to take a stance on the issue or speaker but rather to protect everyone’s right to express themselves in a safe manner.