Public Forum 

In the development of democracy, certain places have traditionally been used to conduct public discussion and debate. They remain important avenues of communication. The question of public forum often arises when public spaces are designated for multiple, sometimes conflicting, uses.

A public forum is public property that historically has been associated with the exercise of First Amendment rights such as pamphleteering, public debate, and picketing. The public forum category includes streets, sidewalks, town meeting halls, and parks, among other locations. Because of the historic relationship between the public forum and free expression, the government cannot ban expression in a public forum. However, a public forum may be regulated by time, place, and manner restrictions as long as they are content-neutral, narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and they leave open alternate channels of communication.

Other public property may become a designated public forum and/or a limited public forum. A designated public forum is public property that has been specifically opened by the state for expressive activity by the general public. Any restrictions on such a forum are subject to the same test as those of the public forum – they must be content-neutral, and narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest with alternate channels of communication available. An example of a designated public forum is a school used for meetings by community groups.

A limited public forum is created when public property is opened for a limited purpose. An example of a limited public forum is a meeting room on a college campus reserved for discussion of global politics for three hours a week. In that case, the school could prohibit discussion of other topics. In a limited public forum, restrictions on speech are allowed if they are viewpoint-neutral and reasonable in light of the purpose of the forum.

Related Cases 

Bellospirito v. Manhasset Public Library--An artist challenged the Manhasset Public Library's policy against displaying nudes. 

Berger v. City of Seattle--Michael Berger, a performance artist, sued Seattle for its regulation of performance space around the Seattle Center. 

Bery v. City of New York--A group of artists sued NYC over a law that prohibited sales on the street without a license. 

Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences v. City of New York--Rudy Giuliani took offense at a work at the Brooklyn Museum of the Holy Virgin Mary which incorporated elephant dung. The City took action by trying to withhold funds and remove the museum from City land. 

Burke v. City of Charleston--Burke challenged an order by the city of Charleston to stop work on a mural it deemed too garish for the downtown historic district. 

Celli v. City of St. Augustine--Celli was prohibited from selling his political poems and images because of a city ordinance restricting the use of city sidewalks. 

Claudio v. United States--The artist challenged the removal of his work "Sex, Laws, and Coathangers" from the lobby of a Raleigh federal building. 

Ecko Complex LLP v. Bloomberg--Ecko Complex challenged the revocation of a city permit for its event. The event was said to "encourage vandalism".

Henderson v. City of Murfreesboro--Henderson displayed a painting of a partial nude in the Murfreesboro City Hall, which the city attorney deemed to violate the sexual harassment policy. 

Hopper and Rupp v. City of Pasco--Pasco's city hall invited artists to display works in their building. Hopper challenged the city's decision to not display his artwork. 

Lebron v. National Railroad Passenger Corp--Lebron leased ad space at Penn Station to create political billboard displays. Amtrak rejected one of Lebron's displays, and Lebron challenged that decision.  

Mastrovincenzo v. City of New York--Sellers of clothing with graffiti on it challenged an NYC ordinance which prohibited the sale of clothing without a license. 

Piarowski v. Illinois Community College--Piarowski donated stained glass windows to the college's art department, some of which were deemed obscene. He claimed a First Amendment violation when the College demanded the work be moved. 

Pulphus v. Ayers--A government-run art competition that required a government committee’s final approval of the works on display is considered government speech, giving the state authority to suppress specific content or viewpoints.

Sefick v. Gardner--Sefick created a satirical sculpture of a federal court judge, and was denied permission to display it in the lobby of a federal courthouse. He challenged that decision. 

Tacynec v. City of Philadelphia--Tacynec challenged the refusal of his band to march in Philadelphia's New Year's Parade, claiming that the reason for denying the band was merely pretension. 

Tunick v. Safir--A photographer claimed that New York City shouldn't be able to interfere with his photo shoot of 75+ naked models on the grounds that it was part of a public showing of a work of art. 

White v. City of Sparks--The city of Sparks required that artists selling works with "obvious religious, political, philosophical, or ideological" messages obtain vending permits. White challenged this policy. 

Yurkew v. Sinclair--A tattoo artist sought to force the Minnesota State Fair to rent him a booth, claiming that tattoos are speech deserving of First Amendment protection. 

These materials are not intended, and should not be used, as legal advice. They necessarily contain generalizations that are not applicable in all jurisdictions or circumstances. Moreover, court decisions may be superseded by subsequent rulings, and may be subject to alternative interpretations. Corrections, clarification, and additions are welcome here.