Free Speech Tracker*

The Free Speech Tracker is a tool for monitoring Free Speech controversies in U.S. civil society and on college campuses across the country. It will also track action and comment on Free Speech issues at all levels of government, especially in state legislatures, including ongoing efforts there to regulate public protests.

The Tracker is an integral part of the Free Speech Project, founded at Georgetown University in the summer of 2017 with major support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It is designed to provide a real-time glimpse of the wave of controversies involving Free Speech sweeping public and private spaces, including college campuses and state capitals. The map included in the Tracker offers a large-scale visualization of national Free Speech trends, including fact-based summaries on each incident or legislative development.

Each day, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is exercised, tested, and debated in countless ways across the country. While it would be impossible to create a comprehensive catalog of controversies and incidents involving First Amendment freedoms, the Free Speech Tracker strives to offer a compilation and analysis of interesting incidents – some emblematic of a broader debate and others admittedly eccentric – that have occurred in the halls of state legislatures, on the greens and in the classrooms of college campuses, and in civil society more generally. Although some incidents are more consequential than others, collectively they tell a story about the state of the First Amendment in America today.

Managed and updated by researchers for the Free Speech Project, the Tracker is a work in progress and should not be considered a complete listing of every instance in which freedom of speech was tested, challenged, or commented upon. The items included in the Tracker originate from review of open source materials that reveal attempts to constrain speech, including news reports in national, local, and campus media, both mainstream and alternative. This review is inherently subjective, but will be decidedly neutral and nonpartisan. The Tracker currently comprises incidents that mostly occurred during or since 2016, but will be updated on a regular basis. As it grows in size and content, it should become a steadily more useful tool for analysis. Long-term, the Tracker will be one part of the Free Speech Project’s efforts to evaluate the condition of liberty of expression at institutions of higher education, in society at large, and at all levels of government.

This Tracker is provided free of charge to the general public in the hope of generating interest in general Free Speech issues as well as specific controversies. Designed to be apolitical, as far as possible the Tracker will try to avoid labels and judgments of the speech it discusses.

Planned updates to the tracker include filters for incidents based on size, nature of the institution or other forum where Free Speech has been challenged, region of the country, and status of legislative action.

*The Free Speech Tracker is a work in progress. New incident summaries will be continuously uploaded.

AAUP censures community college over firing of adjunct professor - September 2016 Campus Community College of Aurora, Aurora, CO
ACLU sues DC area’s transit system for its cautious attitude - August 2017 Civil Society WMATA Headquarters, Washington, DC
Administrators prevent man from praying, students from displaying images of Harambe - August 2016 - September 2016 Campus Clemson University, Clemson, SC
After controversial Facebook post, university declines to rehire adjunct anthropologist - June 2017 Campus University of Delaware, Newark, DE
American flag sparks campus controversy - November 2016 Campus Hampshire College, Amherst, MA
Ben Shapiro delivers controversial speech during Black History Month - February 8, 2017 Campus Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
BLM protesters shout down ACLU speaker - September 27, 2017 Campus Williamsburg, VA, USA
Cabinet member applauds lack of protests in Saudi Arabia, where protest is illegal - May 2017 Civil Society Department of Commerce, Washington, DC
Campus police prevent Shapiro from entering campus venue - November 2016 Campus DePaul University, Chicago, IL
Campus speaker stirs an uproar - March 8, 2017 Campus Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA
Cancellation of controversial play leads to resignation - September 7, 2016 Campus California State University, Long Beach
Candidate turns down administrative job offer following allegations of anti-Semitism - May 22, 2017 Campus Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH
Charlottesville march results in violence, death - August 12, 2017 Civil Society Charlottesville, VA
Classics professor attacked for suggesting marble statues of antiquity were not originally all white - June 2017 Campus University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA
Colorado passes law banning “free speech zones” on public campuses - 2017 State and Local Government Colorado General Assembly, Denver, CO
Community college changes policies, no longer censured by AAUP - June 17, 2017 Campus Phillips Community College, West Helena, AR
Competing rallies at the Lincoln Memorial remain peaceful - June 2017 Civil Society Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
Conservative pundit cancels appearance - April 2017 Campus Downtown Berkeley, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA
Death threats cancel commencement address - June 2017 Campus University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA
Despite opposition from students, Elon maintains invitation to Kathleen Parker - October 4, 2016 Campus Elon University, Elon, NC
Domestic violence charge ends football coach’s career - June 2017 Campus University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado
Duke professor’s racialized comments spark controversy - May 9, 2015 Campus Duke University, Durham, NC
Exercise studio owner criticizes Ivanka Trump, receives criticism - February 2017 Civil Society Solidcore, Washington, DC
Faculty position withdrawn after controversial tweets - 2014 - 2017 Campus University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Federal judge orders university to host white nationalist - April 18, 2017 Campus Auburn University, Auburn, AL
Federal lawsuit leads university to revise Free Speech policy - May 30, 2017 Campus Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI
Festival cancels planned appearance by Rachel Dolezal - 2017 Civil Society Inner Harbor, Baltimore, MD
Fraternity ban leads to court fight - September 2014 - June 2017 Campus Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT
Free Speech bus with conservative message sparks student backlash - March 30, 2017 Campus Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Free Speech event or attack on minorities? - November 23, 2015 Campus University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Furore over “The Fantasticks” – June 15, 2017 Campus University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY
Georgetown Law clarifies its policy on political activism - March 2016 Campus Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC
Google employee fired for critiquing company - August 7, 2017 Civil Society Googleplex, Mountain View, CA
Governor gets power to create public safety zones - 2017 State and Local Government South Dakota State Capitol. Pierre, SD
Governor signs bill banning “Free Speech Zones” at public universities - 2017 State and Local Government Utah State Capitol Building, Salt Lake City, UT
Governor vetoes bill targeting “mass picketing” - 2017 State and Local Government Arkansas State Capitol, Little Rock, AR
Handling of sexual harassment cases criticized by US Department of Justice - October 2016 Campus University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM
High school prohibits students from demonstrating during national anthem - September 28, 2017 Campus Bossier Parish, LA, United States
ICE officials not welcomed as guest speakers in class - May 16, 2017 Campus Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
In wake of environmental protests, legislation aims to protect critical infrastructure - 2017 State and Local Government Oklahoma State Capitol, Oklahoma City, OK
Iowa legislation could send protesters to prison for five years – 2017 Civil Society Iowa State Capitol, Des Moines, IA
Jewish students sue university in midst of tense atmosphere on campus - April 6, 2016 and April 6, 2017 Campus San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA
Judge protects reporter from revealing his sources - December 2017 Civil Society Chicago, IL, United States
Liberal political group objects to conservative event, but decides not to protest - January 27, 2017 Campus Portland State University, Portland, OR
Nebraska unicameral legislature considers Free Speech bill - 2018 State and Local Government Lincoln, NE, USA
Portland mayor contends the First Amendment does not protect hate speech - June 2017 Civil Society Terry Schrunk Plaza, Portland, OR
President cancels visitor’s scheduled talk as potential hate speech - February 18, 2016 Campus Williams College, Williamstown, MA
Private letter goes viral; student suspended, reinstated - July 2017 Campus University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL
Professor calls students “racists and fascists,” condemns them for inviting Yiannopoulos - February 2016 - February 2017 Campus Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA
Professor criticized for tweet during protest – June 2017 Campus Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
Professor fired for anti-Semitic tweets - March – November 2016 Campus Oberlin College and Conservatory, Oberlin, OH
Professor fired for criticizing university security - November 11, 2016 Campus Spalding University, Louisville, KY
Professor fired for vulgar comments made in class - June 18, 2015 Campus Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
Professor injured, students sanctioned after conservative speaker is protested - March 2017 Campus Middlebury College, Middlebury, CT
Professor resigns after opposing “Day of Absence,” receiving settlement - May 2017 Campus Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA
Professor’s Facebook posts prompt investigation - June 2017 Campus Trinity College, Hartford, CT
Protesters interrupt Richard Spencer event - May 1, 2017 Campus University of Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
Protesters use pepper spray to prevent conservative actor from speaking on campus - 2015 – 2017 Campus Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
Protesters use pepper spray to prevent conservative actor from speaking on campus - February 2, 2017 Campus New York, NY, United States
Public displays of disrespect for Trump cause firing, arrest - October - November 2017 Civil Society Herndon, VA, United States
Public radio station cancels event with prominent biologist over anti-Islam comments - August 2017 Civil Society Berkeley, CA, United States
Radio host resigns after being ordered not to criticize Trump - June 2017 Civil Society Palmyra, PA
Religious monument at Arkansas State Capitol destroyed – June 2017 Civil Society State Capitol, Little Rock, AR
Republican pleads guilty to misdemeanor assault, wins special election - May 2017 Civil Society Missoula, MT
Shapiro delivers speech amid protests, files suit against university - February 25, 2016 Campus Cal State LA, Los Angeles, CA
Shooting at congressional baseball practice - June 2017 Civil Society Alexandria, VA
Student government attacks student newspaper for publishing controversial editorial - September 2015 - March 2016 Campus Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT
Student group protests humanities class, demands hiring of minority professors - 2016 - 2017 Campus Reed College, Portland, OR
Student newspaper editor says some campus speech should not be protected - April 14, 2017 Campus Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA
Student protesters block conservative speaker from entering building - April 6, 2017 Campus Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, CA
Students protest Milo Yiannopoulos appearance, using fake blood - February 7, 2017 Campus Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Students protest speaker, engage respectfully during question-and-answer period - March 2, 2017 Campus Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, PA
Students rebuffed in effort to establish pro-Palestinian club - December 2016 - January 2018 Campus Fordham University, Bronx, NY
Student’s poem at graduation ceremony causes controversy - June 2017 Campus Sonomoa State University, Rohnert Park, CA
Trump administration reconsiders legal protections for journalists - August 2017 Civil Society Department of Justice, Washington, DC
University changes speaker policy after Richard Spencer visits - December 6, 2016 Campus College Station, Texas, United States
University enacts new sexual misconduct policy - March 2015 - November 2016 Campus Tufts University, Medford, MA
University president defends professor’s academic freedom - May 2017 Campus Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
University rescinds acceptances over students’ social media posts - June 2017 Campus Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Violence, threats during floor debate in Texas Legislature - May 2017 Civil Society Texas State Capitol, Austin, TX
Virginia General Assembly passes symbolic bill to protect Free Speech – 2017 State and Local Government Virginia State Capitol, Richmond, VA
Virginia gym revokes membership of white nationalist - May 2017 Civil Society Old Town Sport & Health, Alexandria, VA
White student kills an African American visitor to College Park campus - May 2017 Civil Society University of Maryland, College Park, College Park, MD
“Message wall” regulated after racial incident - October 2016 Campus University of Denver, Denver, CO