Use Your Voice
Montana State recognizes and supports the rights of free expression and free speech. Our campus remains a place for the open exchange of ideas and the broadest expression of views.
The First Amendment protects and guarantees most forms of expression and speech — though it does not protect speech that, for example, presents a clear and present danger or is an imminent, "true" threat. The freedom of speech also does not allow us to silence those with whom we disagree. One person’s speech does not enjoy greater weight than another’s such that it may consume or silence the opposing view.
Use your voice wisely and be aware of the ground rules.
Free speech can be hateful or offensive
Even if speech, signs or images are hateful or offensive, they are likely still protected by the First Amendment.
If you are offended by the speech or materials, we suggest that you:
- Do not respond physically; keep your distance.
- Consider organizing an appropriate, nonviolent response.
- If you believe the speech or materials violate university policy, reach out for support and/or report it to the Office of Institutional Equity.
- If you believe conduct during free speech activities violates one or more criminal laws, contact University Police at x2121 or the Bozeman Police Department at 406-582-2000, option 6. If it is an emergency, call 911.
There are many things you can do to express your disagreement with speech.
Suggested actions before a free speech event
- Use social media to start a conversation about what’s going on and begin to build support and/or discussion around your ideas and/or opposition to the proposed event.
- Ask the Exponent to write an article about the issue. Write letters to the editor.
- Reach out to student organizations that may be interested in the issue.
- Contact the Associated Students of MSU. Ask your campus senator to write a resolution in support or in opposition.
- Start petitions to send to campus, local, state and federal officials to communicate your position.
- Use the expertise of faculty and staff to conduct informal lectures or discussions outside of class time.
- Schedule a meeting with university representatives best able to address your concerns.
Suggested actions during a free speech event
- Peaceful, non-disruptive protest is allowed as long as it doesn’t create a disturbance or keep the speaker from communicating their message. Examples include wearing messages on T-shirts, putting tape over your mouth, turning your back to a speaker.
- You may leave the area as long as you don’t obstruct the presentation.
- If you are disruptive and don’t comply with orders to leave the area, you’ll be violating MSU’s Code of Student Conduct, which could lead to disciplinary action.
- You may conduct a peaceful protest or picketing with flyers, petitions, singing or chants as long as it is in an open public areas and does not disturb the event or those who wish to attend.
- You may not block entrances or exits, impede traffic or prevent people from entering, hearing, seeing or leaving the event.
- You may not disrupt university functions or the normal use of a space, such as a classroom, office, laboratory, residence or dining hall.
Planning a free speech event on campus
MSU supports and encourages diverse points of view, though some may seem distasteful or offensive, and the university recognizes individuals' and groups' rights to free expression, including the right to speak, assemble, demonstrate and more, so long as exercising those rights does not unreasonably interfere with the right of the university to conduct its affairs in an orderly manner and maintain its property. Neither can free expression activities interfere with MSU's obligation to protect the rights of all to teach, study, conduct business and fully exchange ideas.
Time, place and manner restrictions
In public spaces on campus, MSU may not regulate the content of speech, but the university can place reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of expression. The following activities are not protected free speech activities:
- The use of violence or credible threats of violence.
- Obstructing or disrupting teaching, research, art, administration, disciplinary procedures or other university activities or operations, or any other authorized activities on university premises.
- Interfering with the rights of others to enter, use or leave any university facility, service or activity.
- Exposing people or property to safety hazards or the risk of injury.
- Activites that are illegal or unlawful.
- Obstructing the free flow of vehicular or pedestrian traffic on campus.
Additional information on use restrictions for MSU facilities are listed in the Facilities Use Manual.
Sound amplification is generally not permitted
The use of sound amplification equipment or public address systems will not be permitted on MSU property or in university facilities if it interferes with the learning environment or the individual rights of those living or working on or near university property.
Generally, the use of amplification equipment for outdoor events is not allowed during regular instructional and business hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Use of amplification during the noon hour or other than regular school hours requires written approval from the vice president for student success or a designee. You can seek such permission by sending an email to [email protected] with the subject line: "Request for outdoor sound amplification."
Please note that Bozeman has an ordinance prohibiting loud and disruptive noises. The city's regulations prohibit "raucous noise or any noise which unreasonably disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of reasonable persons of ordinary sensibility.” This includes excessive yelling and shouting, amplifiers, boom boxes, vehicle horns and public address systems. There are some exceptions noted for outdoor events and activities at the link.
Weapons and improvised weapons are prohibited
Items that present significant threats to safety are prohibited at free expression activities. This includes weapons defined by the University Weapons Policy as well as items that can be used as weapons, including, but not limited to:
- Metal pipes
- Baseball or softball bats
- Lengths of lumber or wood (any size)
- Bricks or rocks
- Glass or Metal beverage or food cans or containers
- Axes, axe handles, or hatchets
- Ice picks
- Razor blades
- Spray cans
- U-lock bike locks
- Heavy-gauge chain
- Dogs (except for service dogs)
- Torches, lanterns, or other devices that use fire or fuel
- Items that under the circumstances show an intent to intimidate others, or incite violence, such as helmets and flak jackets
Individuals and groups may request short-term use of university facilities by contacting Conference and Event Services, located in the Strand Union Building and complete a reservation agreement. Information on the spaces available and their associated costs and capacities are available online.
Outdoor spaces on campus can be used in accordance with the freedom of expression policy. Persons or groups who wish to conduct a specific outdoor activity not covered under that policy — such as setting up tables, tents or other structures — must request permission by submitting an Outdoor Program Request form.
Full guidelines for the Outdoor Program Request form are online via the Office of Student Engagement.
Audio and Video Recording
If an event is held in a public location on campus where access cannot be limited or controlled, such as on the Centennial Mall, then the event and its participants may be recorded.
If the event occurs at a place where access can be controlled or limited, such as a SUB Ballroom or meeting room, the organizers can establish reasonable rules for how attendees conduct themselves and what they may bring into the venue, such as cameras, microphones and audiovisual equipment. Rules should be applied equally to all attendees.
Individual and organizations are responsible for cleaning up and restoring property and for any costs incurred by the university from their activities.
Key Takeaways: Peaceful free expression activities, such as protests or marches, can occur outdoors on campus so long as you don't interfere with others' rights or the operation of the university. Though if you want to put up things like tents and tables, you'll need to do an Outdoor Program Request.
Posting of printed materials
Printed materials, writing or other tangible means of expression — such as posters, stickers and signs — cannot be attached to MSU property, including sidewalks, trees, walls, vehicles parked on campus or any other property, with the following exceptions:
- Materials may be placed on outdoor bulletin boards that are designated as public boards. One is located between the Strand Union and the Library. Another is located near the west end of the Centennial Mall. Please note, there is no supervision of these postings, and all materials on these boards are removed at regular intervals.
- Banners promoting a university- or ASMSU-sponsored event may be displayed on the Wilson Hall bridge or from the cables inside the Reid Hall atrium. Each of those locations requires the approval of the building supervisor. Banners may also be tied or wrapped to columns on the west entry to the Strand Union building with prior approval from the director of auxiliaries.
- Materials cannot be placed on any interior surface of any MSU building without written permission from the building's supervisor following the rules of that building. When you're granted permission, it should also state the date by which your materials must be removed.
Please note that university staff may remove materials placed where posting is not allowed.
Key Takeaways: You can put posters freely on the public bulletin boards or on boards inside where you get permission. You cannot post on things like lightpoles, windows, doors and building walls.