6.4 Freedom of Expression Policy

Proposed: 04/10/2017
Adopted: 05/10/2017
Last Reviewed: 05/25/2021
Effective: 06/25/2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

Middle Georgia State University (MGA) respects and honors the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, including the right to free speech, free expression, free exercise of religion, and the right to assemble peaceably. The University abides by Board of Regents Policy 6.5 on Freedom of Expression. MGA agrees with the University System of Georgia that these rights are of the utmost importance and are likewise committed to protecting those rights.

As a public institution of higher education, MGA promotes open ideas and academic freedom on our campuses. The policy that follows aims to promote campus safety, to ensure the proper functioning of the academic environment and institution activities, and to protect individual rights. It should not be used to unduly burden the free expression rights of any member of the University community.

The University community includes faculty, staff, students, administrators, recognized student organizations of the University, and guests thereof. Any parameters placed on the time, place, and manner of expression will not be based on the content of the expression.

Purpose and Overview of Policy

Middle Georgia State University (“MGA”) recognizes and is committed to upholding the First Amendment rights of all individuals, including freedom of speech and peaceable assembly. MGA also recognizes its responsibility to provide a secure learning environment that allows individuals enrolled at or employed by MGA (“members of the MGA community”) to express their views in ways that do not disrupt the operation of the University.

When used throughout this policy, “expressive activity” and “expression” include non-commercial speech and activities protected by the First Amendment, including speeches, performances, demonstrations, marches, protests, picketing, and the distribution of non-commercial literature. Commercial speech is regulated by MGA solicitation policies. Demonstrations and assembly can be valid expression for all opinions, including dissenting opinions, provided that the demonstration or assembly does not disrupt academic and administrative functions of the University. MGA affirms its commitment to the First Amendment rights of those on its campus even though the language or ideals of those seeking a venue for free expression may contradict University ideals or the personal views of MGA students and employees.

For students, student organizations, and other members of the MGA community, open outdoor areas of campus are venues for expression. The designation of forum areas herein may not be used to prohibit them from engaging in expressive activities consistent with this policy elsewhere on campus, and it does not apply to University-sponsored activities. Rather, the policy only sets forth reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on campus expression; and it establishes as designated public forums certain outdoor areas of MGA’s campus and sets forth requirements for forum reservations in the following limited circumstances: (1) members of the MGA community who plan an event with 30 or more persons and (2) individuals or groups who are not members of the MGA community who wish to speak on MGA’s campus. By placing reasonable limitations on time, place, and manner of speech, MGA does not take into consideration or take a position on the content or viewpoint of the expression, but allows for a diversity of viewpoints to be expressed in an academic setting.

Designation of Forums on MGA’s Campus

To better facilitate the free exchange of ideas, MGA has designated as the following highly visible locations as public forums on MGA’s campus (“Designated Campus Areas”): • Cochran Campus: The lawn area west of the tennis courts (defined by sidewalks on three sides and the tennis stands), • Dublin Campus: The grass area (inside the horseshoe shaped sidewalk) between the student center and the back parking lot), • Eastman Campus: The grass area bounded by the static airplane display south, Airport Road right of way east, and parking areas north and west, • Macon Campus: The lawn between the Teacher Education Building and the Library or the grassy amphitheater outside of the Student Life Center,  • Warner Robins Campus: The grass section of the circular drive in front of Oak Hall. 

These Designated Campus Areas are generally available from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday. The Designated Campus Areas are closed for the first full week of classes and final exam weeks of each semester. This policy does not apply to the reservation of indoor facilities, which is governed by procedures set forth at https://www.mga.edu/hatcher-conference-center/policies.php.

Reservations will only be processed on days that MGA’s Administrative Offices are open for business (“university business days”). Though reservations to use the designated campus areas are only required as set forth in Section C and Section D below, MGA recommends that all parties interested in utilizing the Designated Campus Areas submit a completed Reservation Request Form to MGA’s Office of the Student Affairs prior to use so that MGA may minimize scheduling conflicts, accommodate all interested users, and provide adequate security for the speaker and the audience.

Provisions for Members of the MGA Community

  1. Planned Large Group Expression - Members of the MGA community who plan to engage in expressive activity on campus in a group that is expected to consist of 30 or more persons, not including those who may gather to protest the expressive activity, must submit a completed Reservation Request Form to MGA’s Office of Student Affairs three (3) university business days prior to the scheduled activity pursuant to the procedures set forth in Section E below and must receive approval in writing from a Student Affairs official prior to engaging in such activity. Prior notice is required to ensure that there is sufficient space for the large group event, that necessary University resources are available for crowd control and security, and that the academic and other operations of the University are not disrupted. The Student Affairs official may only deny a reservation for the limited reasons set forth in Section E below.
  2. Spontaneous Large Group Expression - If an individual or small group of individuals within the MGA community, while engaging in spontaneous expression, attracts a group of 30 or more persons (not including those who may gather to protest the expression), then a representative from the group should provide the University with as much notice as circumstances reasonably permit. MGA reserves the right to direct a group of 30 or more persons to one of the Designated Campus Areas or another available area of campus in order to ensure the safety of campus members, to provide for proper crowd control, and to limit disruption of the academic and other operations of the University. The MGA official must not consider or impose restrictions based on the content or viewpoint of the expression when relocating any expression.
Provisions for Non-Campus Members

Individuals or groups of people who are not enrolled at or employed by MGA may only engage in expressive activity on MGA’s campus in the Designated Campus Areas and only after submitting a completed Reservation Request Form to MGA’s Office of Student Affairs at least three (3) university business days prior to the scheduled speech and obtaining approval for such use in writing from a Student Affairs official pursuant to the procedures set forth in Section E below. Organizers are encouraged to submit their requests as early in the planning stages of the event as possible. This provision does not apply to MGA Classroom Visitors or to any University-sponsored events.

Procedures for Reservation Requests

Completed Reservation Request Forms should be submitted to MGA’s Office Student Affairs electronically at least three (3) university business days prior to the scheduled event. Reservation scheduling will be coordinated by a Student Affairs official, who will schedule forums for expression on a first-come, first-served basis. The Student Affairs official must respond to all requests in writing as soon as practicable, but in no event more than two university business days following receipt of the request, either authorizing the reservation and noting any special instructions, if applicable, or setting forth the reason for denial of the reservation. The Student Affairs official may only deny a reservation request for one of the following reasons:

(1) The Reservation Request Form is not fully completed;

(2) The Reservation Request Form contains a material falsehood or misrepresentation;

(3) The Designated Campus Area(s) requested has/have been reserved by persons who previously submitted a completed Reservation Request Form, in which case the University must provide a reservation for the applicant at an alternate location, alternate date, or alternate time;

(4) The use or activity intended by the applicant would conflict with or disturb previously planned programs organized and conducted by the University;

(5) The Designated Campus Area(s) requested is/are not large enough to accommodate the expected or actual number of persons engaging in large group expression, in which case the University must provide a reservation for the applicant at an alternate location that can safely accommodate the applicant provided that the applicant is a member of the MGA community and that such a location exists on MGA’s campuses;

(6) The use or activity intended by the applicant would present a danger to the health or safety of the applicant, other members of the MGA community, or the public;

(7) The use or activity intended by the applicant is prohibited by law, Board of Regents’ Policy, or MGA Policy;

(8) The request seeks to reserve the Designated Campus Areas during the first full week of classes and final exam weeks of each semester;

(9) The applicant seeks to reserve a location on campus other than the Designated Campus Areas; or

(10) The use or activity intended by the applicant would violate the General Provisions in Section F below.

If an individual or group has three (3) or more reservations confirmed within a calendar month, the individual or group may not submit an additional reservation request for that calendar month until three (3) University business days prior to the requested reservation date. If, at that time, the additional reservation request conflicts with that of another individual or group (i.e., seeks to reserve the same location at the same time) that does not already have three (3) or more reservations confirmed within that calendar month, the reservation request of the other individual or group shall have priority.

When assessing a reservation request, the Student Affairs official must not consider or impose restrictions based on the content or viewpoint of the expression, including the possible reaction to the content or viewpoints anticipated to be expressed during the event. The Designated Campus Area(s) is not reserved until the requestor receives an email confirmation from the Student Affairs official, which shall contain the name of the event; the date, time and location of the event; and the name of the individual making the reservation request.

Any denial of a reservation request in whole or in part may be appealed to MGA’s Vice President for Student Affairs in writing setting forth the reasons why the appeal should be granted. MGA’s Vice President for Student Affairs or his or her designee must respond to the appeal in writing within two university business days. The decision of MGA’s Vice President of Student Affairs or his or her designee is final.

General Provisions

In addition to the requirements set forth above, all individuals expressing themselves on MGA’s campus must comply with the following provisions:

  • No interference with the free flow of vehicular or pedestrian traffic within or under the control of the MGA campus or the ingress and egress to buildings on campus is permitted.
  • Sound amplification, including microphones or bullhorns, is not permitted.
  • No interruption of the orderly conduct of University classes or other University activities, including University ceremonies and events, is permitted.
  • Motor vehicles may not be used indoors or in any outdoor area of campus except roads and parking lots.
  • The representative who makes the reservation shall be responsible for seeing that the area is left clean and in good repair. If not accomplished, persons or organizations responsible for the event may be held financially responsible for cleanup costs for removal of signs, placards, litter, and other materials left by the representative’s speaker or group.
  • Expressive activities may not take place in a location that has already been reserved for another event.
  • Expressive activities must not create a clear threat to public health or safety.
  • Damage or destruction of property owned or operated by the University or property belonging to students, faculty, staff, or guests of the University is prohibited. Persons or organizations causing such damage may be held financially and/or criminally responsible.
  • Individuals and groups of individuals expressing themselves on MGA’s campus must comply with all applicable federal, state, and local laws; Board of Regents’ policies; and MGA policies, rules, and regulations.
  • Security fees may be assessed consistent with MGA’s Security Policy. See https://www.mga.edu/hatcher-conference-center/policies.php.

Authorization of a speech, event, or demonstration is contingent upon compliance with the criteria listed above. The authorized representative of the speaker or group is required to sign a form acknowledging compliance with these administrative procedures and guidelines and acknowledging that the University will not be held responsible for the actions of participants in the expression. Additionally, the authorized representative must sign a form acknowledging agreement to make restitution for any litter or property damage that is caused by the representative’s speaker or group.

MGA Public Safety and other appropriate administrators will be notified upon receipt of the reservation request. The reservation request is a public record and submitted requests will be released to interested parties in accordance with the terms of the Georgia Open Records Act.

The University reserves the right to refuse to permit individuals or groups to assemble, demonstrate, protest, or otherwise express themselves in the Designated Campus Areas if the individual or group refuses to abide by these administrative procedures and guidelines. Speakers or organizations failing to comply with the above policy may be asked to leave, a trespass warning may be issued, and/or University disciplinary action may be pursued.

MGA cannot be held responsible for the safety of children or other individuals participating in an event. Persons under the age of 12 years old must be accompanied by an adult.  More information regarding on minors on campus is available in MGA Policy 6.7

Freedom of Expression Policy Questions

Questions about this policy may be addressed to the MGA’s Office of Student Affairs at (478) 757-7383 or vpsa@mga.edu.