Public Forum

Constitutional LawThe term “public forum” refers to a place where people gather to exchange ideas.  Traditional public fora include public parks, streets, and sidewalks.  The United States Supreme Court has held that speech in public forums must be permitted, subject only to reasonable, content-neutral time, place, or manner restrictions.

Public Forums vs. Limited Public Forums vs. Nonpublic Forums

Public forums are “places which by long tradition or by government fiat have been devoted to assembly and debate . . .” Perry Educ. Ass’n v. Perry Local Eductors’ Ass’n, 460 U.S. 37 (1983).  Designated or limited public forums are “property that the state has opened for expressive activity by part or all of the public.” Clark v. Burleigh, 4 Cal. 4th 474, 483 (1992).  All remaining government-owned property is “referred to as” nonpublic forums. (Ibid.)

Reference Desk

Christian Legal Soc. Chapter of University of California, Hastings College of Law v. Martinez, 561 U.S. 661 (2010)

In conducting forum analysis, our decisions have sorted government property into three categories. First, in traditional public forums, such as public streets and parks, “any restriction based on the content of … speech must satisfy strict scrutiny, that is, the restriction must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest.” Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, 555 U.S. 460, 129 S.Ct. 1125, 1132, 172 L.Ed.2d 853 (2009). Second, governmental entities create designated public forums when “government property that has not traditionally been regarded as a public forum is intentionally opened up for that purpose”; speech restrictions in such a forum “are subject to the same strict scrutiny as restrictions in a traditional public forum.” Id., at ––––, 129 S.Ct., at 1127. Third, governmental entities establish limited public forums by opening property “limited to use by certain groups or dedicated solely to the discussion of certain subjects.” Ibid. As noted in text, “[i]n such a forum, a governmental entity may impose restrictions on speech that are reasonable and viewpoint-neutral.” Ibid.

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