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.

TitleCategoryAddress
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
ACLU wins suit against Memphis to halt surveillance of activists – October 2018 Civil Society Memphis, TN, USA
Adjunct professor fired for on-air comments - June 8, 2017 Campus Essex County College, Newark, NJ, USA
Adjunct professor penalized for anti-Trump tweets - February - December 2017 Campus Fresno State, California State University, Fresno, Fresno, CA, USA
Adjunct sociology professor fired after tweeting Hurricane Harvey was “karma” for Trump supporters - August 29, 2017 Campus University Of Tampa, Tampa, FL, USA
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
After punishing students for sit-in, UC Davis accused of selectively enforcing free expression policy - January 2018 Campus University of California, Davis, CA
American flag sparks campus controversy - November 2016 Campus Hampshire College, Amherst, MA
Appellate court rules in favor of protesters preaching outside Nashville Pride festival - September 2018 Civil Society Nashville, TN, USA
Arizona governor signs law imposing consequences on students who impede speech - 2018 State and Local Government Arizona State Capitol, West Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ, USA
Artist claims censorship after removal of portrait at Massachusetts private school – October 2018 Campus Dedham, MA, USA
Atlantic’s new opinion columnist, Kevin D. Williamson, fired two weeks after controversial Tweets and podcast interview unearthed - April 2018 Civil Society Washington, DC, USA
Ben Shapiro delivers controversial speech during Black History Month - February 8, 2017 Campus Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
Bill banning gay conversion therapy stalls in California legislature over Free Speech and religious concerns - August 2018 State and Local Government Sacramento, CA, USA
Bill requiring public schools to display state’s motto "in a conspicuous place” died in State Senate - 2018 State and Local Government Florida Capitol, Tallahassee, FL
BLM protesters shout down ACLU speaker - September 27, 2017 Campus Williamsburg, VA, USA
Boston tavern blasted online after serving ‘free speech group’ with possible hate affiliations - June 2018 Civil Society Boston, MA
Broadcaster Laura Ingraham loses advertisers after criticizing Florida high school shooting survivor - March/April 2018 Civil Society Washington, DC, USA
Cabinet member applauds lack of protests in Saudi Arabia, where protest is illegal - May 2017 Civil Society Department of Commerce, Washington, DC
California man sues town following arrest at public meeting – October 2018 Civil Society Chico, CA, USA
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
Canadian professor threatens to sue online critic for libel - June 2018 Civil Society Bloomsburg University, Bloomsburg, PA, USA
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
Coffee shop fires two employees after Duke University official complains about music - May 2018 Campus Duke University, Durham, NC
College student expelled, suspended after racist Instagram posts - January 15, 2018 Campus University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
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
Confederate monument felled at Univeristy of North Carolina, leading to arrests, university outcry - August 2018 Campus Chapel Hill, NC, USA
Connecticut mayor orders Libertarian activists removed from public park following solicitation for signatures – April 2018 Civil Society Meriden, CT
Connecticut selectwoman kneels during Pledge of Allegiance to protest Trump – July 16, 2018 Civil Society Haddam, CT, USA
Conservative pundit cancels appearance - April 2017 Campus Downtown Berkeley, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA
Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones removed from social media platforms after calls for misinformation crackdown - August 2018 Civil Society Austin, TX, USA
Court rules in favor of Oregon police officer prevented from commenting on racial profiling – September 2018 Civil Society Springfield, OR, USA
Dallas mayor and City Council sued for prohibiting removal of Confederate leaders’ names from city streets - April 24, 2018 Civil Society Dallas City Hall, Dallas, TX
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
Drag show and column attacking it spark controversy at John Carroll University — September 2018 Campus University Heights, OH, USA
Drexel University professor resigns after death threats - December 28, 2017 Campus Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Duke professor’s racialized comments spark controversy - May 9, 2015 Campus Duke University, Durham, NC
ESPN’s Jemele Hill sparks White House controversy with anti-Trump tweets - September 2017 Civil Society The White House, Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC, USA
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
Far-right groups repeatedly clash with counter-protesters in Portland - June 2018 Civil Society Portland, OR, USA
Federal appeals court rules foundation must disclose donors to California - September 2018 Civil Society San Francisco, CA, USA
Federal judge orders university to host white nationalist - April 18, 2017 Campus Auburn University, Auburn, AL
Federal judge strikes down Kansas anti-boycott law - January 2018 State and Local Government Kansas State Capitol, Wichita, KS
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
Florida teacher leaves school after details surface about white-nationalist podcast she hosted - April 10, 2018 Campus Crystal River Middle School, Crystal River, Florida
Florida teen faces disciplinary action after racist ‘promposal’ - April 23, 2018 Campus Riverview High School, Sarasota, FL
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
Green Bay Packers fan sues Chicago Bears for barring him from sidelines - June 16, 2017 Civil Society Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Handling of sexual harassment cases criticized by US Department of Justice - October 2016 Campus University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM
Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government disinvites Chelsea Manning from visiting fellowship - September 14, 2017 Campus Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, MA
High school prohibits students from demonstrating during national anthem - September 28, 2017 Campus Bossier Parish, LA, United States
High school teacher fired after calling US military “lowest of the low” - January 26, 2018 Campus El Ranchero High School, Pico Rivera, California
High school valedictorian prevented from giving graduation speech - May 25, 2018 Campus Holy Cross High School, Covington, KY
High school valedictorian’s microphone disabled when speech veers off script - June 2, 2018 Campus Petaluma High School, Petaluma, CA
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
Inauguration Day protesters, including some rioters, swept up in police dragnet - January 20, 2017 Civil Society Washington, D.C., USA
Instructor faces backlash after berating student, revealing private information on public forum - June 2018 Campus San Diego, CA, USA
Iowa Democratic Party Veterans’ Caucus Prohibited From Participating in Iowa State Fair - August 2018 Civil Society Des Moines, IA, USA
Iowa legislation could send protesters to prison for five years – 2017 Civil Society Iowa State Capitol, Des Moines, IA
Jesuit priest disinvited from university due to pro-LGBTQ beliefs - September 2017 Campus Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.
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 halts Cincinnati billboard tax after pushback from advertising agencies – October 2018 Civil Society Cincinnati, OH, USA
Judge protects reporter from revealing his sources - December 2017 Civil Society Chicago, IL, United States
Law students at Lewis & Clark College interrupt appearance by Christina Hoff Sommers - March 5, 2018 Campus Lewis and Clark Law School, Portland, OR, USA
Liberal political group objects to conservative event, but decides not to protest - January 27, 2017 Campus Portland State University, Portland, OR
Local anchors at Oregon television station refuse to read Sinclair Broadcast script - April 4, 2018 Civil Society KVAL-TV, Eugene, Oregon
Lone Star College Clarifies that Free Speech Is Permitted Outside Free Speech Zones - September 2018 Campus Tomball, TX, USA
Louisiana governor signs campus free expression bill - June 2018 State and Local Government Louisiana State Capitol, Baton Rouge, LA
Maine professor barred from teaching after offering course credit for lobbying US senator — October 2018 Campus Portland, ME, USA
Medical student punished by school for Instagram photos - January 2017 Campus Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Camden, NJ
National Football League releases new rules regulating players’ actions during anthem - May 2018 Civil Society New York, NY, USA
National Park Service seeks to restrict White House protests – August 2018 Civil Society Washington, DC, USA
Nebraska unicameral legislature considers Free Speech bill - 2018 State and Local Government Lincoln, NE, USA
New York Times hires, then fires, editorial writer who befriended neo-Nazis - February 13, 2018 Civil Society The New York Times
Newseum Draws Backlash for Selling Trump Apparel Civil Society 555 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC, USA
Nike presents Kaepernick as the face of a new ad campaign, sparking controversy - September 2018 Civil Society Beaverton, OR, USA
Ohio legislature considers anti-mask bill - 2018 State and Local Government Columbus, OH, USA
Penn Law professor removed from teaching required courses after publishing op-ed - 2017 - 2018 Campus University of Pennsylvania Law School, Philadelphia, PA
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
President Trump calls for tougher libel laws - January 2018 Civil Society Washington, DC, USA
Princeton professor cancels course on offensive speech after outrage over racial slur - February 2018 Campus Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA
Private letter goes viral; student suspended, reinstated - July 2017 Campus University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL
Pro-life organization blocked from public sidewalk - September 2018 Civil Society Rochester, NY, USA
Pro-Palestinian group interrupts Israeli panel discussion at UC Irvine - May 3, 2018 Campus University of California Irvine, Irvine, CA, USA
Pro-Trump flag displayed and quickly removed at Walt Disney World – September 2018 Civil Society Bay Lake, FL, USA
Pro-Trump mural at University of Minnesota painted over with “Stop White Supremacy” - October 20, 2016 Campus University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Professor calls students “racists and fascists,” condemns them for inviting Yiannopoulos - February 2016 - February 2017 Campus Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA
Professor charged with Title IX harassment after critiquing Title IX policy - 2015 – 2017 Campus Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
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 suspended for incendiary comment about members of Black Lives Matter - August 2017 Campus Grand Canyon University, Phoenix, AZ
Professor’s anti-Barbara Bush Twitter tirade draws ire - April 17, 2018 Campus California State University, Fresno
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 - February 2, 2017 Campus New York, NY, United States
Protests outside Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington turn violent - May 16, 2017 Civil Society Turkish Embassy, Sheridan Circle, Washington, DC
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
Responding to pipeline demonstrations, North Dakota governor signs four bills that restrict protest - 2017 State and Local Government Bismarck, ND, USA
Right-wing writer arrested during speech at UConn - November 28, 2017 Campus University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA
Roseanne reboot cancelled after star’s racist tweet - May 2018 Civil Society ABC Studios, Los Angeles, CA
Rutgers president orders further investigation into history professor disciplined for offensive Facebook post – August 2018 Campus New Brunswick, NJ, USA
Satanic statue unveiled at Arkansas capitol to protest Christian monument – August 2018 Civil Society Little Rock, AR, USA
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
State Judiciary Committee prohibits citizens from wearing shirts, buttons, or stickers with political messages at hearings - 2018 State and Local Government Connecticut State House, Hartford, Connecticut
State Senate approves bill that prohibits public colleges and universities from disinviting speakers - 2018 State and Local Government Kentucky State House, Frankfort, KY
State senate considers Free Speech bill killed by state’s House of Representatives - 2018 State and Local Government Pierre, SD, USA
State Senate rejects Free Speech bill due to its lack of protections against harassment - 2018 State and Local Government Kansas State Capitol, Topeka, KS
Student demonstration at career fair prompts university investigation - April 19, 2018 Campus California Polytechnic State University, University House, Campus Way, San Luis Obispo, CA, USA
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 prevented from distributing anti-capitalist flyers on campus - November 28, 2017 Campus Joliet Junior College, Joliet, IL, USA
Student protesters block conservative speaker from entering building - April 6, 2017 Campus Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, CA
Student, prevented from distributing religious Valentines, files lawsuit -- September 2018 Campus Green Bay, WI, USA
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
Students sanctioned for peaceful protest during homecoming weekend - October 2017 Campus Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
Students wearing MAGA hats kicked out of coffee shop - December 7, 2017 Campus Fordham University, Bronx, NY
Student’s poem at graduation ceremony causes controversy - June 2017 Campus Sonomoa State University, Rohnert Park, CA
Syracuse University bans fraternity and suspends members for offensive skit; adjunct professor loses job after opposing decision - June 5, 2018 Campus Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
Texas high school censors paper, fires award-winning journalism adviser - March 2018 Campus Prosper High School, Prosper, TX
Theater production canceled after complaints of “whitewashing,” racial stereotyping - November 2, 2017 Campus Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois
Trump administration reconsiders legal protections for journalists - August 2017 Civil Society Department of Justice, Washington, DC
Trump Disinvites Philadelphia Eagles for Post-Super Bowl White House Visit – June 2018 Civil Society The White House, Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC, USA
Trump faces two lawsuits for First Amendment violations - July 2017, October 2018 Civil Society New York, NY, USA
Trump lawyers defend release of stolen emails on First Amendment grounds – October 2018 Civil Society Richmond, VA, USA
Two Pittsburgh journalists fired over editorial disagreements - June 2018 Civil Society Pittsburgh, PA
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 of Southern Maine removes artwork by sex offender from campus exhibition - May 2018 Campus University of Southern Maine, Lewiston, ME
University postpones play after complaints about its depiction of black characters - October 2017 Campus Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts
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
Utah high school censors student newspaper story about a teacher under investigation - January 2018 Campus Herriman, UT, USA
Vermont high school newspaper censored, but ultimately prevails - September 2018 Campus Burlington, VT, USA
Violence overshadows speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer at Michigan State University - March 5, 2018 Campus Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
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 House suspends CNN reporter’s press pass, leading to lawsuit - November 2018 Civil Society The White House, Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC, USA
White student kills an African American visitor to College Park campus - May 2017 Civil Society University of Maryland, College Park, College Park, MD
Yale Rumpus retracts issue over reference to sexual assault - September 2018 Campus New Haven, CT, USA
YouTuber Logan Paul faces backlash after posting video of suicide victim - December 31, 2017 Civil Society YouTube, San Bruno, CA, USA
“Message wall” regulated after racial incident - October 2016 Campus University of Denver, Denver, CO