Free Speech: Public Forums and Non-Public Forums

When analyzing free speech First Amendment issues, courts typically distinguish between different types of fora: the public forum, the non-public forum, and in certain cases, the limited public forum.

The public forum, such as a park, street, or sidewalk, is where people traditionally express their views.  The government can usually not restrict someone from expressing his opinion in a public forum unless the government has a critical  purpose to do so and adopts the most narrow measures possible to achieve that goal.

In contrast, a non-public forum is a place where people normally do not go to protest, assemble, and express their views.  For example, an office building or a school is not a public forum.  The government can impose reasonable restrictions on expression in a non-public forum.  For example, the government can prevent someone from marching through a public school expressing his views because the school could not function under those circumstances.

The Limited Public Forum

In some cases, the government changes non-public forum into a forum where people are authorized to express themselves in a certain way or on a certain topic.  For example, the government could create a space on city grounds normally reserved for art and invite people to come and share their opinions on a public topic.  In so doing, the government has transformed the non-public forum that was reserved for art displays into a limited public forum devoted to a particular topic.  Now, the government cannot restrict someone from expressing his opinion within the limited public forum.

Get a Civ Pro Quiz Ebook!

101 Civ Pro Questions and Explanations

United States Law: An Introduction for International Students