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Key Terms and Concepts

The Task Force agreed on shared definitions for the following terms and concepts to facilitate their work drafting the recommended Statement. Below please find definitions of these terms and concepts as used by the Task Force. 

Are freedom of speech and freedom of expression different?

Freedom of speech is part of a set of guarantees under the First Amendment, which also includes freedom of the press, of association, of assembly, and of petition. Collectively, these guarantees are termed freedom of expression.

Are there limits on free expression?

Grounded in First Amendment case law, the Statement recognizes that free expression is not without limit and that the University may restrict speech that incites imminent lawless action, falsely defames a specific individual, or which targets a specific individual with threats or harassment. The Statement also acknowledges that the University may regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the operations of the University.

What is counter-speech?

Counter-speech is a response to speech deemed offensive, untrue, or otherwise harmful. The concept is rooted in a concurrent opinion written by Justice Louis D. Brandeis in the Whitney v. California (1927) decision. Justice Brandeis wrote, “If there be a time to expose through discussion, the falsehoods and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

Can you provide an example of disruptive counter-speech?

Disruptive counter-speech interferes with or impedes normal campus operations and/or puts the safety of community members at risk. Examples include:

  • Occupying a campus building, preventing staff from completing their work
  • Convening a protest that exceeds occupancy rates allowable by fire codes
  • Repeatedly interrupting or shouting down a speaker during a sponsored campus event
What is "hate speech"?

“Hate speech” has no single legal definition. In general, hate speech is understood to mean speech that expresses hateful or discriminatory views about certain groups that have been historically subject to discrimination (e.g., African Americans, LGBTQ folx, women) or about certain personal characteristics that have been the basis for discrimination (e.g., religion, gender).

Definitions of “hate speech” and constitutionally protected “hate speech” adapted from Hate: Why We Should Resist It With Free Speech, Not Censorship, by Nadine Strossen.

Is "hate speech" constitutionally protected?

The Supreme Court has not recognized a special category of “hate speech” that is excluded from First Amendment protections based on message alone. The government, however, may restrict some hateful and/or discriminatory speech if it directly causes imminent serious harm or lawless action.

What does "imminent lawless action" mean?

The Supreme Court has ruled speech that directly calls for an immediate lawless action (e.g., encouraging looting or rioting, advocating physical harm of an individual) is not protected by the First Amendment.

The Statement references limiting speech that targets "a specific individual with threats or harassment." What constitutes a threat in this context?

The First Amendment does not protect speech that directly threatens a specific individual or individuals with physical harm or that could reasonably be understood to incite an act of violence against another person. The Statement indicates that targeting a specific individual with threats or harassment is not protected speech.

What constitutes harassment in this context?

Harassment is unwelcome conduct directed against an individual based on that individual’s race, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, status as a veteran or any other classification protected by local, state, or federal law, that is sufficiently serious or pervasive such that it limits or denies an individual’s employment, academic performance, or ability to participate in or benefit from University programs or activities.

The recommended statement says, "The University may restrict expression that ... falsely defames a specific individual." What constitutes defamation?

Defamation is speech that injures an individual’s reputation, and includes both written (libel) and spoken (slander) statements. Defamatory statements directly target a specific individual, are demonstrably false, are disseminated to a third party, and cause injury or harm to the individual defamed.

The recommended Statement indicates "the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure it does not interrupt the ordinary activities of the University." What are "time, place, and manner" restrictions?

Time, place, and manner restrictions are content-neutral limitations the University may impose to ensure expressive activities do not disrupt its normal operations. “Ordinary activities” of the University refers to normal business operations of offices and departments, classes, and campus events.

Examples of time, place, and manner restrictions include:

  • Providing a safe location for protesters to demonstrate that does not disrupt the flow of traffic on University roads
  • Capping the number of protesters who can enter University spaces in accordance with fire codes
  • Limiting noise level of speech to minimize disruption to classes in session
What does it mean for the University to "not remain neutral in regard to ideas or beliefs expressed on campus"?

Just as individuals are encouraged to engage in speech and counter-speech, the University, through its leaders, has the right to engage in both activities in order to appropriately communicate our institutional values. 

Do the principles outlined in the Statement contradict University commitments and aspirations related to diversity and inclusion?

The University of Richmond’s commitments to diversity, equity, inclusion, and academic excellence require strong protections for freedom of expression. The rich diversity of our community ensures all members will, at times, encounter different points of view, some of which may challenge deeply held beliefs. Encounters across difference can promote the development of empathy, critical thinking, and greater self-awareness, which in turn strengthen our community and prepare our students to enter a diverse, complex world as engaged citizens.