Free Speech FAQ

Free Speech and Expression under the First Amendment and Ohio’s FORUM Act of 2021

Attending Zane State College is meant to be a place where people can freely share ideas and opinions. But what happens when we don’t like what we hear? And what if this happens outside of the classroom? Here’s what you need to know about free speech and expression in public areas.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does Zane State College allow people and organizations to freely speak, express, or demonstrate on campus?

The U.S. Constitution, and, Ohio law, protects free speech and expression in public forums. As a public college, Zane State College is legally required to allow people to speak on sidewalks and other open areas of campus. Just because Zane State College is legally required by the Constitution and the Ohio Revised Code, to allow free speech on campus grounds does not mean the College agrees with or endorses what is being said.

Can Zane State College stop a person’s speech, expression, or demonstration? 

Most forms of expression are protected, even if offensive or hateful. Expressive activities on Zane State’s campus, such as speech, pamphleting or displaying signs, may be subject to reasonable limits to the time, place, and manner of the activities (such as prohibiting excessive noise that disrupts learning in the classroom, and prohibiting activity that impedes vehicle or pedestrian traffic).

Safety is something the College takes very seriously, and if altercations occur, police will ensure the safety of everyone. Free speech and expression does not protect violent or criminal behavior.

Is hate speech legally protected?

Hateful or offensive speech is protected by the Constitution in the same way that popular or uncontroversial speech is protected. Free speech does not include speech directed at a specific person that is likely to provoke the average person to violence.

Can a person’s speech and expression be considered legal harassment?

If you are able to stop listening and walk away, it’s unlikely that a court would find a person’s speech, expression or demonstration to meet the legal definition of harassment.

Is there anything else I need to know about free speech and expression on campus?

  • If there is ever a threat to anyone’s safety, contact 911 or campus safety at 740.683.4116.
  • Some people may be seeking negative attention or trying to anger those around them. If their behavior is ignored, these people will often leave.
  • If a person’s speech, expression or demonstration upsets you, remember you may always move to another location.
  • Remember that Zane State students and employees are held to a higher standard of conduct and civility than visitors. (See the Student or Employee Handbook for more information).

What ‘definitions’ would aid me in understanding the intentions of free speech?

  • Campus Community”: students, student groups, faculty, staff, employees or invited guests
  • Expressive Activity”: any lawful verbal, written, audiovisual, or electronic community of ideas. Includes peaceful assembly, protests, speeches, distribution or literature, petitions, carrying signs
  • Student group”: an official recognized group or group seeking official recognition, comprised of admitted students that received, or are seeking to receive, benefits through Zane State College
  • Harassment” (specifically for the matter of free speech): unwelcome conduct that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies an individual equal access to the individual’s education program or activity

Want to do more? Exercise your own right to free speech and expression.

Please contact the Office of Human Resources 740.588.1285.