Events at Public Universities vs. Private Universities
Governmental agencies, including public higher education institutions, are directly bound by the First Amendment to uphold the right to free speech. Because private schools are not agencies of the state or federal government, private schools may generally impose whatever restrictions they wish on speech and on visitors to their campuses.
Several public universities have denied requests from “controversial” speakers over the last few years, citing the risk of violence similar to what happened in Charlottesville, Va. in 2017 as cause to invoke prior restraint in the name of public safety. Attempts to block such speakers from their campuses have resulted in several successful lawsuits against the universities.
Cancelation is a last resort when the university, despite taking all reasonable steps, believes that it cannot protect the safety of its students, staff, and faculty. Events can never be legally canceled based on the content of the speaker’s message.