The First Freedoms
The Privacy Amendments
The 5th Amendment
The 6th Amendment
Civil Trials
The Interpretive Rules

Freedom of Speech and Press

The Location of the Speaker

Public v. Nonpublic Forums

One way to look at modern protection of speech is to look at where the speaker is expressing the action or speech. In general, the greatest protection of expression will occur when the speaker is located in what we call a “traditional public forum”—a place where people have traditionally gathered for meetings and speeches. For example, if someone is speaking in a public square or a city park, the government will have to pass the strict scrutiny test if it tries to regulate the content of the speech. 

There is much less protection in places where the government is performing some official function. We call such a place a “nonpublic forum.” For example, you have no 1st Amendment right to do the Hokie-Pokie in the middle of a busy courtroom or in a government office building during regular business hours. Indeed, in such a place the government can even regulate the content of speech to some extent. For instance, a judge may limit the speech in his or her courtroom to prevent distractions from the case being heard.