Below find a summary of university, local, state and federal laws, policies and regulations dealing with issues of free speech, free expression and free assembly. The page is divided into three sections based on whom the rights listed mainly apply to:

Rights and policies applicable to everyone

University policy

Montana State’s policy on free expression affirms that the university:

supports and encourages diverse points of view, though they may sometimes seem distasteful or offensive, as this is the nature of the University’s educational responsibility and is safeguarded by the freedom of expression. The acceptance of diversity is a fundamental tenet of the Land Grant University system and is instrumental to the creation of new discourses and the weighing of different views.

U.S. Constitution

In the U.S., the right to free speech is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. It reads:

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 prohibits public entities, like the university, from restricting or regulating expression because of the message or ideas it conveys.

The Fourteenth Amendment carries over citizens' First Amendment rights to the states:

… No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States …

Montana Constitution

Montana’s state constitution also grants the freedom of speech and expression in Article II, Section 7:

No law shall be passed impairing the freedom of speech or expression. Every person shall be free to speak or publish whatever he will on any subject, being responsible for all abuse of that liberty. In all suits and prosecutions for libel or slander the truth thereof may be given in evidence; and the jury, under the direction of the court, shall determine the law and the facts.

It also protects the right of assembly in Article II, Section 6:

The people shall have the right peaceably to assemble, petition for redress or peaceably protect governmental action.

Montana law

Montana law defines disorderly conduct as disturbing the peace by

  • Quarreling, challenging to fight or fighting
  • Making loud or unusual noises
  • Using threatening, profane or abusive language
  • Rendering vehicular or pedestrian traffic impassable
  • Rendering the free ingress or egress to public or private places impassable
  • Disturbing or disrupting any lawful assembly or public meeting
  • Transmitting a false report or warning of a fire or other catastrophe in a place where its occurrence would endanger human life
  • Creating a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act that serves no legitimate purpose
  • Transmitting a false report or warning of an impending explosion in a place where its occurrence would endanger human life

Law enforcement, judges and mayors may order people engaged in disorderly conduct to disperse.

Bozeman Municipal ordinances

From Bozeman's city ordinances, Sec. 34.08.010:

The city recognizes and supports the public's right of assembly and free speech and use of designated public facilities for such purposes. At the same time, the city has an important and compelling governmental interest in protecting property, public safety, health, and welfare, and controlling the use of streets and other public facilities and venues. This article seeks to accommodate public rights of speech and assembly consistent with that governmental interest by establishing procedures, terms, and conditions for use of public areas and facilities for such purposes …

And from Sec. 34.08.230, Part A

No person shall unreasonably hamper, obstruct or impede, or interfere with any parade or public assembly or with any person, vehicle or animal participating or used in a parade or public assembly.

Montana Board of Regents

The Board of Regents, which governs Montana’s public universities, has endorsed the statement of principles on academic freedom and tenure of the American Association of University Presidents:

(a) Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties; but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the institution.

(b) Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.

(c) College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.

Key Takeaways: According to MSU's provost, for faculty instructors this means that if contemporary politics have not clearly been part of the course curriculum throughout the semester, then it's inappropriate for political discussions to suddenly become “relevant” to the course in the days surrounding an election.

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The following laws and rules are chiefly applicable to students.

Federal law and student rights

Student speech and association rights are addressed specifically in the federal Higher Education Act in 20 U.S. Code 1011a.

(a) Protection of rights

(1) It is the sense of Congress that no student attending an institution of higher education on a full- or part-time basis should, on the basis of participation in protected speech or protected association, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination or official sanction under any education program, activity, or division of the institution directly or indirectly receiving financial assistance under this chapter, whether or not such program, activity, or division is sponsored or officially sanctioned by the institution.

(2) It is the sense of Congress that—

(A) the diversity of institutions and educational missions is one of the key strengths of American higher education;

(B) individual institutions of higher education have different missions and each institution should design its academic program in accordance with its educational goals;

(C) an institution of higher education should facilitate the free and open exchange of ideas;

(D) students should not be intimidated, harassed, discouraged from speaking out, or discriminated against;

(E) students should be treated equally and fairly; and

(F) nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to modify, change, or infringe upon any constitutionally protected religious liberty, freedom, expression, or association.

(b) Construction Nothing in this section shall be construed—

(1) to discourage the imposition of an official sanction on a student that has willfully participated in the disruption or attempted disruption of a lecture, class, speech, presentation, or performance made or scheduled to be made under the auspices of the institution of higher education, provided that the imposition of such sanction is done objectively and fairly; or

(2) to prevent an institution of higher education from taking appropriate and effective action to prevent violations of State liquor laws, to discourage binge drinking and other alcohol abuse, to protect students from sexual harassment including assault and date rape, to prevent hazing, or to regulate unsanitary or unsafe conditions in any student residence.

(c) Definitions For the purposes of this section:

(1) Official sanctionThe term “official sanction”—

(A) means expulsion, suspension, probation, censure, condemnation, reprimand, or any other disciplinary, coercive, or adverse action taken by an institution of higher education or administrative unit of the institution; and

(B) includes an oral or written warning made by an official of an institution of higher education acting in the official capacity of the official.

(2) Protected association

The term “protected association” means the joining, assembling, and residing with others that is protected under the first and 14th amendments to the Constitution, or would be protected if the institution of higher education involved were subject to those amendments.

(3) Protected speech

The term “protected speech” means speech that is protected under the first and 14th amendments to the Constitution, or would be protected if the institution of higher education involved were subject to those amendments.

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Faculty and Staff

The following laws and rules are chiefly applicable to faculty and staff at MSU.

Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education

The Montana Commissioner of Higher Education has issued guidelines explaining what political activities by public officers and employees are allowed and prohibited in the workplace.


  • Public officers and employees may not use public time, facilities, equipment, supplies, personnel or funds to solicit support for or opposition to any political committee, the nomination or election of any person to public office, or passage of a ballot issue.
  • Employers may not exhibit in the workplace handbills or placards containing any threat, promise or notice intended to influence political opinion or actions of the employer’s employees
  • A person cannot coerce or require a public employee to support or oppose any political committee, candidate or the passage of a ballot issue
  • The state may not refuse employment or discriminate against a person in a term of employment because of that person’s political beliefs.
  • State law prohibits inducing someone to vote for or against a candidate or ballot issue by promising something of value, including employment or appointment to a public post.


  • State law does not restrict the right of a public employee to express personal political beliefs at work or elsewhere. As long as public time, facilities, equipment, supplies or funds are not involved, employees may engage in personal political speech.
  • Public officials and employees may inform and explain the effects and impact of a ballot issue on a public program.

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