Free Speech

At Sonoma State University (SSU), we continually strive to be an inclusive university where difference is appreciated as a source of our collective strength. As part of that, freedom of speech is essential to our commitment to ensure inclusive educational opportunities for all students.

On our intellectually and culturally diverse campus, the freedom of speech provides all members the opportunity to learn, grow and contribute to our shared mission to create a more just, free and prosperous world. But translating theoretical principles into real-world practice can be complicated and challenging, particularly if different members of our community have conflicting opinions, as they inevitably will. Sometimes freedom of speech will bring forward strong emotional responses. However, whether the statements are popular or unpopular, agreeable or offensive, freedom of speech is a fundamental, protected right. 

Freedom of speech plays a valuable role in the student experience at SSU. We encourage you to express your own views, debate issues, get involved and make change. An active, vocal and engaged student body is a keystone of university life.

Time, Place, Manner

Statement of Core Principles: Free Speech

It is the policy of Sonoma State University to uphold the rights of campus community members to exercise their constitutional rights as they pertain to free speech and peaceable assembly. With the goal of fostering and sustaining a forum for the free exchange of ideas, opinions, and personal values, the University encourages discussion and debate as a means of personal growth when engaging differing viewpoints. Sonoma State University embraces the notion that expression may take a vairety of forms, such as speeches, signs, written materials, public assemblies, parades, demonstrations and artistic representation. This policy details the guidelines for expression of speech and assembly for members of the campus community or visitiors in order to maintain the safety of all involved and foster an environment for higher learning to continue.

Accordingly, the campus community is asked to be tolerated or differing points of view and to respect the rights of others to express themselves. While one may find  certain expressions or materials to be quite offensive or even insulting, the appropriate way to counteract such materials is through discourse, criticism, and the expression of contrary points of view. Free speech is allowed and supported as long as it does not violate other laws or university orders, policies, or procedures, or compromise safety. Printed materials that include slanderous/libelous statements are not permitted. Any member of the campus community who finds freedom or expression activities or posted materials to be offesive or disrespectful is encouraged to contact the responsible organization or individual to address their objections.

This policy is established and withheld under the athority of Title 5 of the California Code of Regulation, Education Code, state and Federal law, as well as directives, executive orders, resolutions and standing order of the Board of Trustees, the Chancellor of the California State University, and the President of Sonoma State Univesity.

Time, Place, Manner Restrictions

Reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on the use of public forums are permissible, provided that they are carefully designed to (1) coordinate the appropriate use of a particular location for speech activities, remain viewpoint-neutral, and not to prohibit particular forms of expression; (2) "serve a significant government interest" and are not more extensive than necssary to serve that interest; and (3) "leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information." They must be clear and specific enough to place the public on notice as to exactly what is authorized and what is forbidden. Sonoma State University, like most other institutions, routinely sets forth regulations pertaining to the way activities may be conducted. Three examples of such restrictions follow.

Scheduled events take precedence over spur of the moment activities. 

Because an event may interfere with classes in session and/or other activites, sound amplification is generally limited to times when classes are not in session. See Amplified Sound Procedures further below.

Activities that restrict or distrub the routine business of the University are generally prohibited or closely monitored and as such, may be directed to cease should it be determined that such activity is restricting or disturbing the routine business of the university. 

Time: Daily, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., except for current Sonoma State University registered students, student clubs/organizations, staff, and faculty, who may engage in freedom of expression activites at any time. 

Place: Approved freedom of expression activties may take place on campus with the following exceptions: inside parking lots and university buildings and within 20 feet of any location in which instructional, educational and/or official business activites are being conducted. Popular locations include outside the Student Center and the Mario Savio Speakers' Corver next to International Hall.

Manner: Freedom of expression must be conducted in a manner that (1) shall not interfere with or obstruct the free flow of pedestrian or vehicular traffic, (2) shall not interfere with or disrupt the conduct of university business, (3) shall be carried out without creating excessive noise by use of a device, (4) shall not unresonably interfere with classes in session or other scheduled academic, educational, cultrual/arts progams, (5) shall not promote an unlawful end, such as promoting actual violence or bodily or property harm, terrorist threats, defamation, obsenity, and false advertising, and (6) shall not violate any federal, state or local safety code, such as regulations set by the State Fire Marshall. Persons using areas generally avaliable to students and the community and allowed to distribute petitions, circulars, leaflets, newspapers, and other printed matter. Individuals or groups distributing materials in these areas, other than materials discarded or dropped in or around appropriate receptables, shall make a reasonable effort to retrieve and remove such materials, prior to their departure from the areas that day. These procedures will be administered by the Vice President for Student Affairs, and will be enforced by the University Police Department, and, when appropriate, the Office of Student Conduct. Enforcement will comply with existing state and federal law.  


  • Cyberbullying

According to, "Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes selling, posting, or shaing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.

2019 brought about the apporval of Senate Bill 366, the first ball to address cyberbullying in higher education. With college students being the most frequent users of social media sites, the need for legislative disucssion on this topic could not be more relevant for young adults today.

A study by the University of Washington found the college-age women are just as likely to be vitimized as younger adolescents, and other studies show that 22 percent of all higher education students experince cyberbullying at some point during their college career. Students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender face cyberbullying at rates that are double that of their straight peers. Cyberbullying has been linked to suicide, alcoholism, and depression in higher education. It is critical that California's colleges are transparent with the resources that are available throughout this process. 

As you join the SSU community, it is important to remember your behavior and actions online may impact other members of the SSU family and may impact any future educational and/or professional opportunities. Students engaging in to cyberbullying are subject to accountability through the Student Conduct Process in addition to Executive Order 1096, CSU wide policy addressing Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation.

  • Free Speech

Freedom of speech is the right of a person to articulate opinions and ideas without interference or retaliation from the government. The term "speech" constitutes expression that includes far more than just words, but also what a person wears, reads, preforms, protests and more. In the United States, freedom of speech is strongly protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as well as by many states and laws. The United States' free speech protections are among the strongest of any democracy; the First Amendment protects even speech that many would believe to be offensive, hateful, or harassing.

  • Hate Speech

The term "hate speech" does not have a legal definition in the United States, but it often refers to speech that insults or demeans a person or group of people on the basis of attributes such as race, ethinic origin, sexual orientation, disability or gender. While SSU condemns speech of this kind, there is no "hate speech" exceptions to the First Amendment and it is only illegal if it falls into one of the recognized exceptions of free speech. In fact, on many occasions, the Supreme Court has explicitly held that prohbitions or punishments for hateful speech violate the First Amendment. 

While the First Amendment protects someone's right to say hateful things without censorship, others may criticize, denounce or judge those remarks. As a University that values civility, inclusivity and equality, we strive to be a community where no one will choose to express hate.

  • Hate Crimes

According to the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office, "California hate crime law prohibits the use of force of threat because of a victim's actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or diability. California law provides for an increased sentence of one to four years in state prison if the underlying criminal act or attempted criminal act is "substanically motivated" by the victim's actual or percieved race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability. The Office of the Sonoma County District Attorney is committed to the prosecution of hate crimes that strike to the core of our society because everyone should be treated fairly, equally, and not discrimiated against.

What types of speech are not protected?

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech by default, placing the burden on the state to demonstrate whether there are any circumstances that justify its limitation.

The relevant exceptions to the First Amendment that have been established are:

  • Speech that would be deemed a "true threat": Speech that a person resonably would percieve as an immediate threat to their physical safety is not protected by the First Amendment. For example, if a demonstrator yelled at an individual student and threatened a physical assault to the speech, then such would not be protected.
  • Incitement of illegal activity: There is no right to incite people to break the law, including to commit acts of violence. To constitute incitement, the Supreme Court has said that there must be a substancial likelihood of imminent illegal activity and the speech must be directed to causing imminent illegal activity. For example, a speaker on campus who exhorts the audience to engage in acts of vandalism and destruction of property is not protected by the First Amendment if there is a substancial likelihood of imminent illegal activities.
  • Harassment in an educational institution aimed at an individual on the basis of a protected characteristic (race, gender, sexual orientation, religion): that is also pervasive and severe; is a direct or implied threat to employment or education; or creates an intimidating, hostile and demaning enviornment. 

Where should I report a hate crime?

If it is a crime in progress or an emergency, call 911 immediately or contact the University Police Department at 707-664-4444.

Where should I report a bias incident that does not amount to a crime?