Eight Places Where Free Speech Boundaries Are Stricter Than at Many Abortion Clinics


Read more of our coverage on the McCullen v. Coakley case here.

Last week, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Massachusetts’ abortion clinic buffer zone law, which prohibited anti-choice protesters from congregating within 35 feet of clinics.

As RH Reality Check reported last week, the Court didn’t rule against buffer zones entirely, but said the Massachusetts law burdened free speech to an unnecessary degree. “Petitioners wish to converse with their fellow citizens about an important subject on the public streets and sidewalks—sites that have hosted discussions about the issues of the day throughout history,” the Court wrote.

Reading the Court’s opinion, you might get the idea that free speech in the form of protests and handing out literature about social and political issues is practiced without restriction in the United States. But that is not the case. To illustrate that point, RH Reality Check has created a list of eight places where you can only exercise free speech in certain places, at certain times, and under certain conditions.

1. The Supreme Court

In June of last year, the Supreme Court issued a regulation barring demonstrations on the Court’s plaza. The Court says the regulation is necessary to “maintain suitable order and decorum within the Supreme Court building and grounds.”

2. College Campuses

College campuses, particularly the University of California at Berkeley, were notoriously the hub of free speech protests during the ’60s and ’70s. But many colleges still restrict student speech. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a sixth of the nation’s top 400 colleges have designated and sectioned-off “free speech zones” in which students can protest and pass out literature. At McNeese State University in Louisiana, for example, students are allowed to distribute literature in two designated zones, up to three times a year, for no more than four hours per event. As we’ve reported before, Louisiana has some of the worst health and reproductive outcomes in the country, and 25 percent of people of color don’t have health insurance.

3. Churches

In March, the Mormon church told an organization of Mormon women interested in gender equality, called Ordain Women, that they would not be allowed to protest on church property. The church, which excludes women from most positions of authority within Mormonism, in a statement said that women interested in protesting use the free speech zones adjacent to the building. The religion has a history of sexism, and women’s roles are “always mediated and under the direction of male priesthood leaders,” according to Ordain Women.

4. Airports

In San Francisco at least, religious and social groups such as the Hare Krishnas are banned from passing out literature except at two “free speech booths” inside two of the airport terminals. A permit must be received through the airport before using the booth. The San Francisco and Los Angeles airports also prohibit individuals using the booth from certain kinds of panhandling, and in 2010 the supreme court of California ruled in favor of this prohibition.

5. Political Party Conventions

Many political conventions strictly enforce “free speech zones” for protesters, many of which are out of sight from the actual event. The 2004 Democratic National Convention, for example, forced protesters to congregate in an enclosure described by the Washington Post as:

Wedged between a parking lot for buses and a bunch of trailers, and set beneath the blue-green steel supports of a condemned stretch of the T, Boston’s mass-transit line. The area’s perimeter is marked by a sawtooth pattern of Jersey barriers, and it’s caged top to bottom with cyclone fencing and barbed wire. A black plastic tarp keeps officially credentialed types in the FleetCenter compound from seeing inside the pen.

6. Anti-War Protests

In 2001, a protester was arrested for holding up a sign reading “No War for Oil, Don’t Invade Iraq” during President Bush’s visit to Columbia, South Carolina. After a long legal battle, the protester was fined $500 for failing to stay in the designated free speech zone, instead demonstrating in the public airport where the event was held. The zone created for Bush’s appearance was half a mile away from the event.

7. National Parks

Many national parks have set aside zones where protesters can exercise their First Amendment rights. A Canadian blogger visiting a national park in Tennessee noticed a sign reading, “This area has been set aside for individuals or groups exercising their constitutional First Amendment Rights.” The National Park Service website explains that “the National Park Service establishes guidelines for setting the time, place and manner (number of participants, use of facilities and type of equipment) for the [free speech] events to occur.”

8. Super Bowls

The passage of the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement” act in 2012 makes it a federal offense, punishable by up to ten years in prison, to protest anywhere defined as an event needing Secret Service protection. According to Slate, “every Super Bowl since 9/11” has been defined as such an event.

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Follow Nina Liss-Schultz on twitter: @NinaLisss

  • fiona64

    Well, see, it’s all just gentle grannies like John Scalzi and Eric Rudolph who want to talk to women going into these clinics … so that makes it all right.

    • http://alisonroseishere.tumblr.com/ Alison Rose

      John Scalzi? Unless there’s one other than the sci-fi writer (who I know is not an anti-choicer), I think you have the wrong name. Unless I’m wrong and not Googling well…

      • fiona64

        Oops. John Salvi (don’t ask what I was thinking). Post corrected.

        • http://alisonroseishere.tumblr.com/ Alison Rose

          Haha, whew! I was like…wait, what??? nooooooo! :)

  • kitler

    Abortion protests are acceptable because the protestors are just trying to save lives!

    • J.D.

      And if they approach me whilest I’m out and about conducting my daily business (like going to PP to get a Pap Smear or renew a prescription for birth control pills), I’ll pepper spray them (ever so gently) in the face since for some reason I read screaming, profanity, threats, curses, physical assault and/or battery, and physical intimidation as THREATENING to me.
      What? You just wanted to talk? Well, you could’ve said your piece from 35 feet away and I could have told you from the same distance to @$#% off. Would’ve saved us both time and trouble.

      • kitler

        I’d put a ghetto blaster on with 2 live crew playing at full volume.

        • expect_resistance

          I like to drive by blaring Bikini Kill or Jack off Jill. I especially like playing “Suck my Left One” by Bikini Kill. Old school riot grrrl music.

      • Kevin Schmidt

        Except in stand your ground states, then you can substitute something even less gentle than pepper spray.

    • Ineedacoffee

      Forced birthing rapist
      Woman having bodily autonomy is paramount over your sky fairy so called wishes

      • lady_black

        Kitler is on our side. I know, sarcasm doesn’t work well over the internet.

      • EmmaLib

        I too did not see the sarcasm, if that makes you feel any better. With our Supreme Court and so many saying so many stupid things, I thought too he was one of them.

        • kitler

          That’s how they cloak it though. Any abuse is ‘acceptable’ if it’s done by ‘moral’ people, or for a ‘moral’ cause.

          This is one reason the church keeps getting away with abuse and criminal misdeeds – people have in their mind this idea that churches and church people are morallly superior, even *when* they fuck up.

          • EmmaLib

            Different standards for different folk…. Mitt Romney and Rick Scott of the GOP defrauded medicaid in the tune of Billion$$$$, they pled guilty, wore given a fine not even equal to the monies they stole, and were not labeled felon. But a black man steals a carton of cigarettes, he does jail time, and is labeled for life. It must be nice to be a part of the party of old white entitled male club called the GOP.

            Vitter (R) hires the illegal sexual services of prostitutes, and remains making legislation for others, while Anthony Weiner takes a selfie of his covered weiner, and is forced to resign. The only crime Anthony committed was being stupid, something I am sure we all are guilty of at one time or another. But hiring prostitutes he gets off scott-free, just like Rick Scott and Mitt Romney.

          • kitler

            Yep.

            I recently saw a documentary on the French revolution. There were three classes in society. The nobles, the clergy and the rabble.

            Guess which two classes thought themselves above the law, and above taxes? Sound familiar?

          • EmmaLib

            While some of us learned from history, it seems a large portion of the population are intent to repeat it over and over again!

            I will get someone to sharpen the Guillotine, but not too sharp, it might be more fun having to drop it multiple times for it to do its’ job!

          • JamieHaman

            You know what is said, “Those who don’t know history, are doomed to repeat it, and those who do are doomed to stand by and watch it happen again.”

          • EmmaLib

            And one more addendum, of different strokes for different folks, while Romney and Scott stole billions for us poor taxpayers, and paid their fines with stolen gains, Bernie Madoff stole billions from the uber rich, and was sentenced to life.

          • Ineedacoffee

            Apologies kilter, I missed the sarcasm
            Long night with sick child, went right over my head lol

    • EmmaLib

      And protesting Dubya not invading Iraq for oil, too was about saving hundreds of thousands of lives, that were actually BORN, BREATHING, HUMAN BEINGS. You and your ilk believe everyone who goes to planned parenthood is going for their monthly recreational abortion. You are so wrong, but then again you will never know what it is like to be a woman, NEVER.

  • JamieHaman

    It’s free speech if it’s against women, not against men. I get it now. Men have to be protected, women can deal. Just not make their own decisions.

    • Kevin Schmidt

      Your ridiculous, off topic, man hating comment proves you did not read the article.

      • sophie

        Man-hating?! My, aren’t we sensitive. The rights of women NOT to be harassed while going to a clinic should not be under seige-which they clearly are, thanks to the naive and strangely worded SCOTUS decision.

        • Kevin Schmidt

          Thanks for the typical man hating nonsense.
          Blaming all men just proves you are hysterical.

          • Cherylln

            Kevin, you sound a little hysterical. I think the very phrase “typical man hating nonsense” language is fairly misogynistic. Has it ever occurred to you to be sympathetic a little? We women are having all kinds of decisions being made against us. Perhaps you could be an advocate instead?

          • EmmaLib

            I think he spends too much time on a site called the little Red Pill, a bunch of self-loathing he-man wimmin haters club, complaining because they can’t get wimmin. They do not see how absolutely egregious and offensive their comments are everytime they open their mouths. Women are attracted to honey not vinegar.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            I think you just like to throw out spurious accusations, that only make you look foolish.

          • EmmaLib

            I am surprised you think before you speak. You know nothing of me, and yet you jump to preconceived views of women, and call me a fool.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            How hypocritical for you to lodge personal attacks against me, and then accuse me of committing your crimes. LOL! You discredit yourself and make yourself look foolish, again.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            I refuse to be sympathetic with hysterical man haters.
            Please explain how Jammie’s following hysterical comment is not misandric :

            “It’s free speech if it’s against women, not against men.”

          • EmmaLib

            Kevin: “Thanks for the typical man hating nonsense.Blaming all men just proves you are hysterical.”

            Is the word “hysterical” sexist? Damn right it is, because it is only used to refer to women, who exercise their right to free speech the same as a man. Same with calling this persons opinion “typical man-hating nonsense”. http://forums.philosophyforums.com/threads/is-the-word-hysterical-sexist-61785.html

            In addition, when a person uses these racist terms, yes, they are racist, in reference to Obama or any other person of color, you can bet you are a racist shoe shiner, boy, uppity, mammy, referring to him as Kenyan, nigger in the Whitehouse, circulating an email depicting Obama and his parents as chimps, making posters that make Obama look like Aunt Jemima, and titling it ‘Obama Waffles’….it is all racist.

            It appears your mother and father failed to raise you with respect for women.

            So sorry.

          • Apple

            Hysterical, at least in its etymology, is one of the most innately sexist words in common usage. I’m sure the irony of his statement was unintentional, but it certainly made me laugh :)

          • Kevin Schmidt

            Again with the personal attacks. Could you at least once leave out the emotional, irrational nonsense? Obviously you have nothing relevant to add in support of your ridiculous accusations. It really discredits yourself and not me. LOL!

          • lady_black

            Well, isn’t that pretty much what the Supreme Court just ruled?

          • expect_resistance

            What the hell are you talking about? No one is blaming all men. Get real.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            JamieHaman made a spurious blanket accusation against men. How the hell else can you interpret it? Get real indeed!

          • expect_resistance

            You sound paranoid.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            You sound delusional.

          • expect_resistance

            Sure, whatever time wasting troll.

      • JamieHaman

        Awwww, did your itty bitty widdle feelings get hurt? I sooo sooo sorry.
        May you should re-read the article.
        Or better yet, try living in a woman’s body in this country.
        You know what they say, “If it’s only a problem for some, but it isn’t a problem for ME.” Why, that’s the very definition of male privilege.

        • Kevin Schmidt

          Thanks for the passive-aggressive nonsense that only discredits yourself and no one else. Blaming all men, also proves you are hysterical.

          • JamieHaman

            lol, get over it. It is women’s clinics for women’s legal health care that is impacted by this. Not men’s health care.
            Of course, it isn’t a problem for you is it?
            You only worry about being “blamed”.

          • Lmaris

            He knows no woman would willingly bear his child, and resents women for it. He tars anyone who dare disagree with his sense of privilege as “man haters” to justify why women dislike him. We women are all the same to him, so if we dislike him, we must dislike all women. Nothing further from the truth, but truth is rarely a factor in his thought processes,

          • Kevin Schmidt

            You know nothing about me. To claim you by making spurious accusations like yours proves you are just as much a man hater as Jammie.

          • EmmaLib

            But you made the same spurious comments about Jamie Haman, and it seems every woman you have replied to on here, including myself.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            There is nothing spurious about my accusation. The proof is in her comment.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            Why do you continue to post delusional posts?
            You can’t prove your original comment, so you resort to personal attacks. Your hysterical emotional irrational nonsense only discredit yourself and no one else.

          • kitler

            Women’s health care is impacted.Not men’s.

            Looks pretty factual to me.

            YOU are the one who is delusional little Kevin. Seems to me that you get off on casting yourself as some sort of ultra-victim of man hating feminists.

            Grow the fuck up, and stop playing the victim card. You are embarassing yourself. Your posts make me cringe, you’re such a fucking whiner.

            Oh, and that entire post of yours was an ad hominem fallacy, but I am not surprised, a stupid shit like you couldn’t argue his way out of a paper bag. But you’re not here to argue, you’re here to get pity points. Like I said, grow the fuck up little boy.

          • Unicorn Farm

            Flagged for misogyny, again.

          • EmmaLib

            That flag does not seem to work for misogynist remarks, I have flagged his comments, too, but his comments remain.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            My comments are not misogynist, which is why they were not removed. But you go ahead and have yet another emotional, irrational outburst.

          • expect_resistance

            Go ahead keep making a fool of yourself.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            Flagged for lying and misuse of flagging, again.

          • kitler

            What a childish little troll you are.

          • lady_black

            No personal attack in her comment. You are not “men.”

          • Kevin Schmidt

            I am a man, which is a part of men. Perhaps you need a course in logic to understand what I just said.

          • lady_black

            There was never any personal attack in any of her comments, and you do not speak for men.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            I only addressed your ridiculous misandric comment. Pay attention!

          • EmmaLib

            And none of your comments are misogynist are they. Mehhhh, Not one…all of them are.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            You said, “Blah! Blah! Blah!”
            Gee, that doesn’t prove anything, again.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            You’re off topic. Pay attention, if you can.

          • Ineedacoffee

            No other sentence apart from your hysterical and man hating?

          • Kevin Schmidt

            Your comment is not a sentence.

          • Ineedacoffee

            Sorry, should I add ” ” where they ment to be so you don’t get confused?

          • lady_black

            I didn’t see any blame for men. Only the feeling that it’s OK to treat women’s bodies and health as political footballs and public property. And Kevin, it’s not only men doing that. Nor is it all men doing it. We’re sick of it, no matter who it’s coming from.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            Then she should not have blamed all men. That was my point. But some hysterical fools had to go and twist my words simply because I called her out on her man hating comment.

          • lady_black

            Please cut and paste the part where she “blamed all men.” I’ll wait.

          • expect_resistance

            What the hell are you talking about? No one is blaming all men. Can you read?

          • Kevin Schmidt

            You must be talking to yourself.

            Read Jamies comment again with comprehension this time.

          • expect_resistance

            Sorry you’ve missed the reading compression mark. Try again.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            You project your own functional illiteracy. Read her original comment again. She is blaming men in general, which is ridiculous and not provable.

          • expect_resistance

            Yawn. Boring.

          • P. McCoy

            Your words are all what we can expect from Viagra challenged, one handed, one too quick on the draw one shot wonders… No hysteria felt saying these words, contempt, now that’s a different matter!

          • Kevin Schmidt

            You don’t see the contempt in Jamie’s comment? Gee, what do you know, another hysterical man hater.

          • EmmaLib

            Your sexist comments knows no bounds.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            I’m not the one being sexist. Read your own out of bound comments again, sexist man hater.

          • kitler

            All you deserve is contempt, mr I am on RHRC looking for pity points.

          • expect_resistance

            How is this article or any of the comments man-hating? Could you please illustrate exactly what the hell you are talking about? You are not making any sense other than trolling to fuck up the discussion. If that’t the case go away your trolling is not welcome here.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            I was not talking about the article, that is why you are confused. Go to the top of the thread and read Jamie’s comment. Pay attention.

          • P. McCoy

            I’m shivering in my pink booties, little man…

          • EmmaLib

            He’s afraid of women who speak their mind, his dad must have treated his mum like crap.

          • P. McCoy

            Thanks, but let’s not feed the trolls, instead let’s break the back sides of their attempts to establish a theocracy in the United States.

          • EmmaLib

            I really think you learn from your parents relationship and how they interact. My father never raised a hand or said a nasty word to my mom. Did they fight, argue, of course, but they never degraded each other in order to win.

          • EmmaLib

            I am all for breaking their attempts at establishing America as a theocracy.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            You’re living in denial and are also delusional to think my rebuttal to a man hating comment is part of a vast conspiracy to establish a theocracy.
            Thank God I’m an atheist. LOL!

          • Kevin Schmidt

            If I was afraid, I would not have replied to a man hating comment.
            By the way, you know nothing about my family. You really have to do something about your delusional accusatory comments that continue to discredit yourself and not me. Meds?

          • Kevin Schmidt

            Whatever rocks your boat. I will not judge your kinks, little brain.

          • P. McCoy

            Only men have two brains and like yourself usually lead with the less intelligent one between their legs. Since you’re too obtuse to recognize satire, I shall speak plainly; I am not afraid of your remarks and atheist or not, a craven, reactionary misogynist like your would still like to benefit from a theocracy- after all, a lot of Nazis were atheists too!

          • Kevin Schmidt

            Typical emotional irrational man hating response when proven wrong.

          • P. McCoy

            Ha! You’re hysterical, keep playing the same old record- you’re as ‘right’ in your assessments as someone in an asylum bragging and strutting around believing that he’s Napoleon.

            Such a bore – take your tiny, second brain in hand and jerk yourself a soda “Napoleon”, you’re boring the rest of us.

          • EmmaLib

            Once again your comment reeks of sexism.

          • expect_resistance

            No one is blaming all men. Where are you getting this from? WTF!

          • Unicorn Farm

            Flagged for misogyny.

        • Cherylln

          It came to me while writing down Jimmy Carter’s words about the way churches treat women and it occurred to me for the first time that we women are literally being persecuted.

          • JamieHaman

            So very true. Women got the blame from the first apple. Religion is how men do that, and teach their sons how to do that. Damned shame.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            More hysterical ranting from the man haters club.

          • EmmaLib

            You have some deep seated issues.

          • fiona64

            He’s another Elliot Rodger in the making …

          • EmmaLib

            I agree.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            You project your own faults, again.

          • kitler

            You’re hysterical about supposed man hate and ‘hysterical’ women posters

            Grow the fuck up

          • Unicorn Farm

            Flagged for misyogny.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            Flagged for lying and misuse of the flagging system.

          • JamieHaman

            lol, What’s the problem? Going to tell me Eve didn’t get the blame? Going to tell me Adam didn’t immediately blame her for his bite of the proverbial apple? Are you really going to try to say that men have not blamed Eve for the “fall from grace, for being kicked out of the garden of Eden? Really? When did men stop blaming Eve for just that?

            That’s your idea of hysterical? Try this: deriving from or affected by extreme uncontrolled emotion. ex hysterical laughter. synonyms ranting, wild, frenzied, frantic, and feverish. I assure you I am none of those things while posting.

            Why would I hate men? Most men are decent, reasonable human beings. Some are just small spoiled boys is very large bodies, who think everyone is being mean to them if they don’t get their own way.

            Sound familiar?

          • Kevin Schmidt

            The problem is you are blaming all men in general for the sins of a few, which is indeed hysterical. How many times do I have to post the same message before you and the rest of the man haters around here finally comprehend it and stop living in denial about that fact?

          • JamieHaman

            You still need to work on your reading and comprehension skills. I haven’t blamed all men.

          • fiona64

            We know, sweetie: #NotAllMen. You’re a self-identified “nice guy,” right?

            Just like Elliot Rodger.

          • EmmaLib

            We are, it took tremendous courage for Jimmy Carter to stand up to the church and make those claims. I applaud him. Such an excellent MAN.

      • Cherylln

        Kevin, you jumped to man hating awfully quick. She has every reason to feel threatened about not being able to advocate for herself and her gender. All of us women are feeling very, very vulnerable. Your criticism is not warranted. A little gentleness and empathy would be in order.

        • Kevin Schmidt

          There is no reason for posting man hating rants. Stop trying to justify it.

          • EmmaLib

            You are entitled, yes, I understand, but others are not.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            You are an angry misandric, yes I understand.

          • EmmaLib

            Still with the demeaning and degrading name calling.
            I have no time for your problems, which appear deep-seated.
            Seek professional help.
            Seriously.
            BubBYE

      • lady_black

        Yeah…NO.

      • expect_resistance

        Did you read the article? If so, you have an issue with reading comprehension.

        • Kevin Schmidt

          I responded to Jamie’s misandric comment and not the article. You have an issue with critical thinking.

          • kitler

            You have an issue with trolling for pity points.

          • expect_resistance

            No I don’t have an issue with critical thinking. Jamies’s comment was’t misandric. Your reaction to what Jamie posted was way off base. It’s like you cut and pasted a response that didn’t match what was posted. Hence why I said you have an issue with reading comprehension.

          • Kevin Schmidt

            Blaming all men is not misandric? Really? Jamie’s comment was off base, not my response. The lack of critical thinking is all yours.

      • fiona64

        I smell an MRAsshole …

        • Kevin Schmidt

          Whatever turns you on, just keep your nose away from my butt.

          • fiona64

            It’s okay, sweetie; I can smell your stench through the internet. I have no desire to get that close to you; I’m only attracted to men.

      • lady_black

        Her comment is not off-topic, not ridiculous, and not man-hating. It is simply a fact.

        • Kevin Schmidt

          Your comment is not a fact, and that’s a fact.

  • Dez

    My problem is that these protestors think they have women’s permission to involve themselves in their private medical choices and appointments. When did any woman go up to this protestors at a clinic and give them permission to discuss the woman’s medical decisions?

    • J.D.

      They’re think they’re great multitaskers. They’re religio-fascists, gestational slavers, busybodies, physical assailants AND they think they can play doctor and counselor on the side.

  • schuschein

    Thanks for the article. A question about #3, though: wouldn’t the church be considered private property? If so — is this any different from any other private property ruling — including health clinics?

    As a clinic escort at several clinics in the DC area, there are varying
    rules about where private property begins and public property ends
    regarding right of way, clinic entrances, etc. (We’ve seen this in the
    Boston area as well.) But as a private establishment, freedom of
    expression does not grant access to anyone to enter private property.

  • smacarol

    Logic does not apply, or they could not have so ruled.

  • carolrhill814

    I am sorry they would have to put up signs and even at that I would be arrested because to me FREEDOM OF SPEECH has no boundaries because the very word FREEDOM OF anything is free.

    • Lmaris

      Sweetie, there are limits to all of our “freedoms”. You cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theater (criminal endangering), you cannot knowingly publish lies in order to ruin someone’s reputation (libel and slander), you cannot block traffic to protest, etc.

  • expect_resistance

    Nina thank you for this great article! The SCOTUS decision is a decision to legalize harassment of women plain and simple. As an anti-war activist my first amendment rights were constantly taken away every time I protested against the war. I’m saddened this July 4th that as a woman my rights have been taken away again. *sigh*

  • Suba gunawardana

    Maybe one way to get around the problem is for women’s health clinics to re-name themselves “political party conventions” or “religious organizations”. Such as “Women’s Rights Party”, or “Temple of my Body”.