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The Special Public Purpose Forum and Endorsement Relationships: New Extensions of Government Speech

70 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2007  

Mary Jean Dolan

affiliation not provided to SSRN


The public and private sectors partner in a growing number of projects with expressive dimensions, as governments leverage their resources, especially to produce cultural programs. This creates increasingly complex First Amendment issues because such joint enterprises exist at the intersection of two overlapping, but contradictory, paradigms: the limited public forum and government speech. Under the limited public forum test, government ostensibly may set reasonable content limitations when it opens up property and programs to private speakers, so long as its selections are viewpoint neutral. There is no clear line between viewpoint and content, however, and courts frequently strike down program guidelines that are infused with government perspective. The government speech approach, in contrast, allows government to promote its own positions in an expressive project, through its selection of private speaker participants. Its contours and relation to forum analysis, however, are not well developed.

This Article addresses two conflicting lines of cases in an effort to create coherent, consistent guidelines. First, in contexts such as city-sponsored special events, decorative street light pole banners, and city web site Internet links, where government has broad, thematic goals and includes private participants, the government speech paradigm should apply. Second, government's selection and acknowledgment of sponsors should be deemed government speech. This Article proposes use of the endorsement test as a clear rationale for distinguishing this context from the classic limited public forum of transit advertising. These doctrinal clarifications, by allowing governments the discretion to shape their own expressive projects, will add to and enhance the speech market.

Keywords: government speech, limited public forum, sponsorships, public-private

Suggested Citation

Dolan, Mary Jean, The Special Public Purpose Forum and Endorsement Relationships: New Extensions of Government Speech. Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 2, 2004. Available at SSRN:

Mary Jean Dolan (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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