This content is intended to serve as general information; it is not legal advice nor intended as legal advice.


The right to protest is a long-standing protection afforded by the U.S. and Texas constitutions, and that right extends to students across college and university campuses. However, because institutions have an interest in maintaining peace and public order, they may restrict some protest activities in certain ways.

This Know Your Rights information is intended for students on college and university campuses who want to understand their rights while exercising their right to protest. If you are looking for information about protest rights beyond college and university campuses, you can access that here. This webpage does not cover every nuance of the law surrounding protest rights at Texas colleges and universities and is not and should not be taken as legal advice. If you have specific legal questions, consult an attorney or the ACLU of Texas.



What are my speech and protest rights on my college or university campus?

Your right to protest on campus depends on whether you attend a public or private school.

If you attend a private school: Private institutions generally are not bound by the First Amendment. That means private school students do not have the exact same rights to freedom of speech as students in public institutions. Rather, a private school student’s free speech rights are generally as outlined or described in the institution’s policy rules and codes of conduct.

If you attend a public school: The First Amendment protects the rights of students in public colleges and universities to express their opinions, even if others disagree with the views expressed or the form of expression. Spoken and written words are protected, as well as other types of expression, like wearing symbolic clothing, sit-ins, passing out flyers, and picketing — as long as this expression doesn’t violate any reasonable, viewpoint-neutral rules that schools may have related to the time, place, and manner of student speech (more on that below).

Can public colleges and universities restrict student speech?

Public institutions are allowed to set reasonable, viewpoint-neutral rules related to the time, place, and manner of student speech.

For example, a speech or rally that might be permissible in a park may be restricted if made in the reading room of a library. Colleges and universities can also restrict speech — including protests, marches, and demonstrations — that directly calls for immediate, violent action. And they can restrict “substantial disruptions” to campus, such as blocking entryways and exits to campus buildings, causing property damage, endangering the safety of others, or creating a hostile environment for other students that amounts to harassment. However, the ways our government can restrict speech are carefully limited, and both the U.S. and Texas Constitutions typically require that the free and robust exchange of ideas be allowed on university campuses.

Can I be disciplined for my speech on campus?

Your public college or university can discipline you for your speech if it determines that the speech violates the university’s student conduct rules, or other established rules and guidelines, and is not protected by the First Amendment. It may also discipline you if you violate a reasonable and neutral rule that regulates the time, place, or manner of your protest. However, that investigation and determination must be applied neutrally to all students and adhere to the rules outlined in the university’s student code of conduct (as well as the First Amendment). Understanding your college or university’s policies and code of conduct is essential to understanding your due process rights.

Do any state laws impact speech rights on campus?

In 2019, the Texas legislature passed a law that declared “all common outdoor areas” of public university campuses to be traditional public forums. This allows anyone — not just students and university members — to freely “engage in expressive activities” there, as long as their activities are lawful and don’t “materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the institution.” The law also authorized public institutions to implement “reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of expressive activities in the common outdoor areas of the institution’s campus” if those restrictions, among other things, do not discriminate based on viewpoint and “allow members of the university community to assemble or distribute written material without a permit or other permission from the institution.”

Where can I protest on campus?

Although the common outdoor areas at all Texas public universities have been designated as traditional public forums by our state legislature, it is important to check your campus policies to see what rules exist for when and where you may protest. For example, some universities might prohibit certain activities from taking place in classrooms, dorms, and other buildings — and they might close certain areas at night or during holidays. These rules must be reasonable and viewpoint-neutral and allow for alternative channels for engaging in free speech activity.

Can I be prevented from protesting if my views are controversial?

No. Restrictions on speech must generally be unrelated to the content of the speech and may not be viewpoint based. Even if your views are unpopular, controversial, or critical of the government, you still have the right to express them through speech and assembly.

Additionally, counterprotesters also have free speech rights. Police must treat protesters and counterprotesters equally. Police are permitted to keep antagonistic groups separated but should allow them to be within sight and sound of one another.

Am I allowed to videotape or take photos at protests on campus?

When you are lawfully present outside on public property, you generally have the right to photograph anything in plain view, including government buildings and the police. Check your campus policies before taking photographs or videos inside.

Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant, nor may they delete data under any circumstances. However, they may order you to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations.

Be aware that live-streaming or posting photos or videos of protest activity may be used by law enforcement and may expose people to criminal liability. If you have evidence that you believe could prove someone’s innocence or reveal police misconduct, consider consulting an attorney.

What about Gov. Greg Abbott’s 2024 executive order on campus free speech?

On March 27, 2024, the Governor of Texas signed an executive order, No. GA44, requiring public universities in Texas to review their free speech policies and to ensure that these policies are enforced against groups such as the Palestine Solidarity Committee and Students for Justice in Palestine.

Gov. Abbott’s order seems to abandon the First Amendment’s requirement that the government not censor speech because of people’s views. Universities already have legal obligations to protect students, faculty, and staff from harassment and ensure that they do not permit hostile environments based on the targeting of any racial, ethnic, or religious group. Governor Abbott’s executive order conflates these legal concepts and fails to mention universities’ obligations to all of their students, including those experiencing a sharp rise in anti-Muslim or anti-Arab hatred.



Try to stay safe and remember your constitutional rights. Don’t resist, keep your hands clear and visible, and stay silent: Remember that anything you say or do can be used against you. Arguing or resisting may give police an excuse to arrest you.

  • On foot: If you are stopped while you are on foot and have not been detained, you are not required to answer officers’ questions. You may respond to questions from a police officer with: “I am exercising my right to remain silent.”
  • Ending the encounter: There are various ways to end the law enforcement interaction. You may ask, “Am I free to go?” when a police officer is speaking to you on the street, and leave if they say yes. If the police officer responds with anything other than yes, you may follow up with: “Am I being detained?” If they respond with anything other than yes, you may state that you do not wish to continue speaking, and leave immediately.
  • Searches: The police may pat down your clothing if they suspect that you are concealing a weapon. Don’t resist or touch the officer, but clearly state that you don’t consent to any further searches. Police generally need your permission or a search warrant to search beyond a pat down. If you do not directly say that you do not want to be searched, a judge may determine that your silence was consent to the search.
  • Being detained: If the police detain you, you may be required to provide your name, address, and date of birth. It is a criminal offense to give false or inaccurate information to a police officer, threaten them, or resist arrest. If you are arrested, you only have to speak to identify yourself and ask for an attorney, and may state “I am exercising my right to remain silent, and I would like to speak to an attorney.” Remember that anything you say can be used against you.
  • After arrest: Before participating in a protest, try to identify an attorney or trusted friend who could help you if you are arrested. Memorize or write that person’s phone number on your body. If you do not have access to an attorney, the government is required to appoint you one, but there could be a delay of hours or days depending on where you are arrested, and you have a right to remain silent during that time.



  • When you can, write down everything you remember, including the officers’ names, badge numbers, patrol car numbers, and the agency they work for.
  • Get contact information for witnesses.
  • Take photographs or video of any injuries.
  • Contact an attorney: You may consult a private attorney, contact your local bar association, or call the Texas Lawyer Referral Service operated by the State Bar of Texas at 1-800-252-9690 or 1-877-9TEXBAR (toll-free) to connect with a lawyer.
  • File a police complaint: If you think the police have acted outside their authority, don’t protest or resist on the scene. File a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.
  • Request legal assistance from the ACLU of Texas: If you believe that your rights have been violated, visit our legal assistance page to submit a request.