473 U.S. 788
July 2, 1985, Decided

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case requires us to decide whether the Federal Government violates the First Amendment when it excludes legal defense and political advocacy organizations from participation in the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC or Campaign), a charity drive aimed at federal employees.


The CFC is an annual charitable fundraising drive conducted in the federal workplace during working hours largely through the voluntary efforts of federal employees. At all times relevant to this litigation, participating organizations confined their fundraising activities to a 30-word statement submitted by them for inclusion in the Campaign literature. Volunteer federal employees distribute to their co-workers literature describing the Campaign and the participants along with pledge cards.  Contributions may take the form of either a payroll deduction or a lump-sum payment made to a designated agency or to the general Campaign fund. Undesignated contributions are distributed on the local level by a private umbrella organization to certain participating organizations. Designated funds are paid directly to the specified recipient. Through the CFC, the Government employees contribute in excess of $ 100 million to charitable organizations each year.

The CFC is a relatively recent development. Prior to 1957, charitable solicitation in the federal workplace occurred on an ad hoc basis. Federal managers received requests from dozens of organizations seeking endorsements and the right to solicit contributions from federal employees at their worksites. Because no systemwide regulations were in place to provide for orderly procedure, fundraising frequently consisted of passing an empty coffee can from employee to employee.  Eventually, the increasing number of entities seeking access to federal buildings and the multiplicity of appeals disrupted the work environment and confused employees who were unfamiliar with the groups seeking contributions....

In 1957, President Eisenhower established the forerunner of the Combined Federal Campaign to bring order to the solicitation process and to ensure truly voluntary giving by federal employees.  One of the principal goals of the plan was to minimize the disturbance of federal employees while on duty.

Four years after this initial effort, President Kennedy abolished the advisory committee and ordered the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission to oversee fundraising by "national voluntary health and welfare agencies and such other national voluntary agencies as may be appropriate" in the solicitation of contributions from all federal employees. Only tax-exempt, nonprofit charitable organizations that were supported by contributions from the public and that provided direct health and welfare services to individuals were eligible to participate in the CFC.

Respondents in this case are the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Federally Employed Women Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Indian Law Resource Center, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights under Law, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Each of the respondents attempts to influence public policy through one or more of the following means: political activity, advocacy, lobbying, or litigation on behalf of others....

President Reagan took several steps to restore the CFC to what he determined to be its original purpose. In 1982, the President issued Executive Order No. 12353 to replace the 1961 Executive Order which had established the CFC. The new Order retained the original limitation to "national voluntary health and welfare agencies and such other national voluntary agencies as may be appropriate," and delegated to the Director of the Office of Personnel Management the authority to establish criteria for determining appropriateness. Shortly thereafter, the President amended Executive Order No. 12353 to specify the purposes of the CFC and to identify groups whose participation would be consistent with those purposes. Exec. Order No. 12404 (1984). The  The Order limited participation to "voluntary, charitable, health and welfare agencies that provide or support direct health and welfare services to individuals or their families," and specifically excluded those "[agencies] that seek to influence the outcomes of elections or the determination of public policy through political activity or advocacy, lobbying, or litigation on behalf of parties other than themselves."

Respondents brought this action challenging their threatened exclusion under the new Executive Order. They argued that the denial of the right to seek designated funds violates their First Amendment right to solicit charitable contributions....


The issue presented is whether respondents have a First Amendment right to solicit contributions that was violated by their exclusion from the CFC. To resolve this issue we must first decide whether solicitation in the context of the CFC is speech protected by the First Amendment, for, if it is not, we need go no further. Assuming that such solicitation is protected speech, we must identify the nature of the forum, because the extent to which the Government may limit access depends on whether the forum is public or nonpublic. Finally, we must assess whether the justifications for exclusion from the relevant forum satisfy the requisite standard. Applying this analysis, we find that respondents' solicitation is protected speech occurring in the context of a nonpublic forum and that the Government's reasons for excluding respondents from the CFC appear, at least facially, to satisfy the reasonableness standard. We express no opinion on the question whether petitioner's explanation is merely a pretext for viewpoint discrimination. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Charitable solicitation of funds has been recognized by this Court as a form of protected speech. Notwithstanding the significant distinctions between inperson solicitation and solicitation in the abbreviated context of the CFC, we find that the latter deserves First Amendment protection. The brief statements in the CFC literature directly advance the speaker's interest in informing readers about its existence and its goals. Moreover, an employee's contribution in response to a request for funds functions as a general expression of support for the recipient and its views. Although Government restrictions on the length and content of the request are relevant to ascertaining the Government's intent as to the nature of the forum created, they do not negate the finding that the request implicates interests protected by the First Amendment.


The conclusion that the solicitation which occurs in the CFC is protected speech merely begins our inquiry. Even protected speech is not equally permissible in all places and at all times. Nothing in the Constitution requires the Government freely to grant access to all who wish to exercise their right to free speech on every type of Government property without regard to the nature of the property or to the disruption that might be caused by the speaker's activities. Recognizing that the Government, "no less than a private owner of property, has power to preserve the property under its control for the use to which it is lawfully dedicated," Greer v. Spock (1976), the Court has adopted a forum analysis as a means of determining when the Government's interest in limiting the use of its property to its intended purpose outweighs the interest of those wishing to use the property for other purposes. Accordingly, the extent to which the Government can control access depends on the nature of the relevant forum. Because a principal purpose of traditional public fora is the free exchange of ideas, speakers can be excluded from a public forum only when the exclusion is necessary to serve a compelling state interest and the exclusion is narrowly drawn to achieve that interest. Similarly, when the Government has intentionally designated a place or means of communication as a public forum speakers cannot be excluded without a compelling governmental interest. Access to a nonpublic forum, however, can be restricted as long as the restrictions are "reasonable and [are] not an effort to suppress expression merely because public officials oppose the speaker's view."

To determine whether the First Amendment permits the Government to exclude respondents from the CFC, we must first decide whether the forum consists of the federal workplace, as petitioner contends, or the CFC, as respondents maintain. Having defined the relevant forum, we must then determine whether it is public or nonpublic in nature.

We agree with respondents that the relevant forum for our purposes is the CFC. In defining the forum we have focused on the access sought by the speaker. When speakers seek general access to public property, the forum encompasses that property.  In cases in which limited access is sought, our cases have taken a more tailored approach to ascertaining the perimeters of a forum within the confines of the government property. For example, Perry Education Assn. v. Perry Local Educators' Assn. examined the access sought by the speaker and defined the forum as a school's internal mail system and the teachers' mailboxes, notwithstanding that an "internal mail system" lacks a physical situs.  Here, as in Perry Education Assn., respondents seek access to a particular means of communication. Consistent with the approach taken in prior cases, we find that the CFC, rather than the federal workplace, is the forum.

Having identified the forum as the CFC, we must decide whether it is nonpublic or public in nature....The government does not create a public forum by inaction or by permitting limited discourse, but only by intentionally opening a nontraditional forum for public discourse.  Accordingly, the Court has looked to the policy and practice of the government to ascertain whether it intended to designate a place not traditionally open to assembly and debate as a public forum.  The Court has also examined the nature of the property and its compatibility with expressive activity to discern the government's intent. For example, in Widmar v. Vincent (1981), we found that a state university that had an express policy of making its meeting facilities available to registered student groups had created a public forum for their use.  The policy evidenced a clear intent to create a public forum, notwithstanding  the University's erroneous conclusion that the Establishment Clause required the exclusion of groups meeting for religious purposes. Additionally, we noted that a university campus, at least as to its students, possesses many of the characteristics of a traditional public forum. Similarly, the Court found a public forum where a municipal auditorium and a city-leased theater were designed for and dedicated to expressive activities. Southeastern Promotions, Ltd. v. Conrad (1975).

Not every instrumentality used for communication, however, is a traditional public forum or a public forum by designation.  We will not find that a public forum has been created in the face of clear evidence of a contrary intent,  nor will we infer that the government intended to create a public forum when the nature of the property is inconsistent with expressive [***29]  activity.  In Perry Education Assn., we found that the School District's internal mail system was not a public forum. In contrast to the general access policy in Widmar, school board policy did not grant general access to the school mail system. The practice was to require permission from the individual school principal before access to the system to communicate with teachers was granted. Similarly, the evidence in Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights (1974) revealed that the city intended to limit access to the advertising spaces on city transit buses. In cases where the principal function of the property would be disrupted by expressive activity, the Court is particularly reluctant to hold that the government intended to designate a public forum. Accordingly, we have held that military reservations and jailhouse grounds do not constitute public fora.

Here the parties agree that neither the CFC nor the federal workplace is a traditional public forum. Respondents argue, however, that the Government created a limited public forum for use by all charitable organizations to solicit funds from federal employees. Petitioner contends, and we agree, that neither its practice nor its policy is consistent with an intent to designate the CFC as a public forum open to all tax-exempt organizations. In 1980, an estimated 850,000 organizations qualified for tax-exempt status.  In contrast, only 237 organizations participated in the 1981 CFC of the National Capital Area. The Government's consistent policy has been to limit participation in the CFC to "appropriate" voluntary agencies and to require agencies seeking admission to obtain permission from federal and local Campaign officials. Although the record does not show how many organizations have been denied permission throughout the 24-year history of the CFC, there is no evidence suggesting that the granting of the requisite permission is merely ministerial. Such selective access, unsupported by evidence of a purposeful designation for public use, does not create a public forum.

Nor does the history of the CFC support a finding that the Government was motivated by an affirmative desire to provide an open forum for charitable solicitation in the federal workplace when it began the Campaign. The historical background indicates that the Campaign was designed to minimize the disruption to the workplace that had resulted from unlimited ad hoc solicitation activities by lessening the amount of expressive activity occurring on federal property. The Government did not create the CFC for purposes of providing a forum for expressive activity. That such activity occurs in the context of the forum created does not imply that the forum thereby becomes a public forum for First Amendment purposes....

In light of the Government policy in creating the CFC and its practice in limiting access, we conclude that the CFC is a nonpublic forum.


Control over access to a nonpublic forum can be based on subject matter and speaker identity so long as the distinctions drawn are reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum and are viewpoint neutral. Although a speaker may be excluded from a nonpublic forum if he wishes to address a topic not encompassed within the purpose of the forum, or if he is not a member of the class of speakers for whose especial benefit the forum was created,  the government violates the First Amendment when it denies access to a speaker solely to suppress the point of view he espouses on an otherwise includible subject.

Petitioner maintains that the purpose of the CFC is to provide a means for traditional health and welfare charities to solicit contributions in the federal workplace, while at the same time maximizing private support of social programs that would otherwise have to be supported by Government funds and minimizing costs to the Federal Government by controlling the time that federal employees expend on the Campaign. Petitioner posits that excluding agencies that attempt to influence the outcome of political elections or the determination of public policy is reasonable in light of this purpose. First, petitioner contends that there is likely to be a general consensus among employees that traditional health and welfare charities are worthwhile, as compared with the more diverse views concerning the goals of organizations like respondents. Limiting participation to widely accepted groups is likely to contribute significantly to employees' acceptance of the Campaign and consequently to its ultimate success. In addition, because the CFC is conducted largely through the efforts of federal employees during their working hours, any controversy surrounding the CFC would produce unwelcome disruption. Finally, the President determined that agencies seeking to affect the outcome of elections or the determination of public policy should be denied access to the CFC in order to avoid the reality and the appearance of Government favoritism or entanglement with particular viewpoints. In such circumstances, petitioner contends that the decision to deny access to such groups was reasonable.

In respondents' view, the reasonableness standard is satisfied only when there is some basic incompatibility between the communication at issue and the principal activity occurring on the Government property. Respondents contend that the purpose of the CFC is to permit solicitation by groups that provide health and welfare services. By permitting such solicitation to take place in the federal workplace, respondents maintain, the Government has concluded that such activity is consistent with the activities usually conducted there. Because respondents are seeking to solicit such contributions and their activities result in direct, tangible benefits to the groups they represent, the Government's attempt to exclude them is unreasonable.

Based on the present record, we conclude that respondents may be excluded from the CFC. The Government's decision to restrict access to a nonpublic forum need only be reasonable; it need not be the most reasonable or the only reasonable limitation. In contrast to a public forum, a finding of strict incompatibility between the nature of the speech or the identity of the speaker and the functioning of the nonpublic forum is not mandated.  Even if some incompatibility with general expressive activity were required, the CFC would meet the requirement because it would be administratively unmanageable if access could not be curtailed in a reasonable manner. Nor is there a requirement that the restriction be narrowly tailored or that the Government's interest be compelling. The First Amendment does not demand unrestricted access to a nonpublic forum merely because use of that forum may be the most efficient means of delivering the speaker's message. Rarely will a nonpublic forum provide the only means of contact with a particular audience. Here the speakers have access to alternative channels, including direct mail and in-person solicitation outside the workplace, to solicit contributions from federal employees.

The reasonableness of the Government's restriction of access to a nonpublic forum must be assessed in the light of the purpose of the forum and all the surrounding circumstances. Here the President could reasonably conclude that a dollar directly spent on providing food or shelter to the needy is more beneficial than a dollar spent on litigation that might or might not result in aid to the needy. Moreover, avoiding the appearance of political favoritism is a valid justification for limiting speech in a nonpublic forum....


On this record, the Government's posited justifications for denying respondents access to the CFC appear to be reasonable in light of the purpose of the CFC. The existence of reasonable grounds for limiting access to a nonpublic forum, however, will not save a regulation that is in reality a facade for viewpoint-based discrimination.  While we accept the validity and reasonableness of the justifications offered by petitioner for excluding advocacy groups from the CFC, those justifications cannot save an exclusion that is in fact based on the desire to suppress a particular point of view.

Petitioner contends that controversial groups must be eliminated from the CFC to avoid disruption and ensure the success of the Campaign. As noted, we agree that these are facially neutral and valid justifications for exclusion from the nonpublic forum created by the CFC. Nonetheless, the purported concern to avoid controversy excited by particular groups may conceal a bias against the viewpoint advanced by the excluded speakers. In addition, petitioner maintains that limiting CFC participation to organizations that provide direct health and welfare services to needy persons is necessary to achieve the goals of the CFC as set forth in Executive Order 12404. Although this concern is also sufficient to provide reasonable grounds for excluding certain groups from the CFC, respondents offered some evidence to cast doubt on its genuineness. Organizations that do not provide direct health and welfare services, such as the World Wildlife Fund, the Wilderness Society, and the United States Olympic Committee, have been permitted to participate in the CFC. Although there is no requirement that regulations limiting access to a nonpublic forum must be precisely tailored, the issue whether the Government excluded respondents because it disagreed with their viewpoints was neither decided below nor fully briefed before this Court. We decline to decide in the first instance whether the exclusion of respondents was impermissibly motivated by a desire to suppress a particular point of view. Respondents are free to pursue this contention on remand.

JUSTICE BLACKMUN, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN joins, dissenting.

I agree with the Court that the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) is not a traditional public forum. I also agree with the Court that our precedents indicate that the Government may create a "forum by designation" (or, to use the term our cases have adopted, n1 a "limited public forum") by allowing public property that traditionally has not been available for assembly and debate to be used as a place for expressive activity by certain speakers or about certain subjects. I cannot accept, however, the Court's circular reasoning that the CFC is not a limited public forum because Government intended to limit the forum to a particular class of speakers. Nor can I agree with the Court's conclusion that distinctions the Government makes between speakers in defining the limits of a forum need not be narrowly tailored and necessary to achieve a compelling governmental interest. Finally, I would hold that the exclusion of the several respondents from the CFC was, on its face, viewpoint-based discrimination. Accordingly, I dissent.

The Court recognizes that its decisions regarding the right of a citizen to engage in expressive activity on public property generally have divided public property into three categories -- public forums, limited public forums, and nonpublic forums. The Court also concedes, as it must, that "a public forum . . . created by government designation of a place or channel of communication for use by the public at large for assembly and speech, for use by certain speakers, or for the discussion of certain subjects" is a limited public forum. It nevertheless goes on to find that the CFC is not a limited public forum precisely because the "Government's consistent policy has been to limit participation in the CFC" to certain speakers. Because the Government intended to exclude some speakers from the CFC, the Court continues, the Government may exclude any speaker from the CFC on any "reasonable" ground, except viewpoint discrimination. In essence, the Court today holds that the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech and assembly, a "fundamental principle of the American government," reduces to this: when the Government acts as the holder of public property other than streets, parks, and similar places, the Government may do whatever it reasonably intends to do, so long as it does not intend to suppress a particular viewpoint.

The Court's analysis transforms the First Amendment into a mere ban on viewpoint censorship, ignores the principles underlying the public forum doctrine, flies in the face of the decisions in which the Court has identified property as a limited public forum, and empties the limited-public-forum concept of all its meaning....

Not only does the Court err in labeling the CFC a nonpublic forum without first engaging in a compatibility inquiry, but it errs as well in reasoning that the CFC is not a limited public forum because the Government permitted only "limited discourse," rather than "intentionally opening" the CFC for "public discourse." That reasoning is at odds with the cases in which the Court has found public property to be a limited public forum. Just as the Government's "consistent policy has been to limit participation in the CFC to 'appropriate' voluntary agencies and to require agencies seeking admission to obtain permission" from the relevant officials, the theater in Southeastern Promotions, Ltd. v. Conrad (1975), limited the use of its facilities to "clean, healthful entertainment which will make for the upbuilding of a better citizenship" and required productions wishing to use the theater to obtain permission of the relevant officials. Under the Court's reasoning, therefore, the theater in Southeastern Promotions would not have been a limited public forum. Similarly, the university meeting rooms in Widmar v. Vincent (1981), despite the Court's disclaimer, would not have been a limited public forum by the Court's reasoning, because the University had a policy of "selective access" whereby only registered nonreligious student groups, not religious student groups or the public at large, were allowed to meet in the rooms.

Nor does the Court's reasoning find support in those cases where the Court has rejected the claim that a particular property was a limited public forum. In Perry, for example, the Court assumed, arguendo, that by allowing groups such as the Cub Scouts to use its mail system, the school might have created a limited public forum for such organizations, even though the school clearly had no intent to open up the mail system for general "public discourse...."

The Court's analysis empties the limited-public-forum concept of meaning and collapses the three categories of public forum, limited public forum, and nonpublic forum into two. The Court makes it virtually impossible to prove that a forum restricted to a particular class of speakers is a limited public forum....

Even if I were to agree with the Court's determination that the CFC is a nonpublic forum, or even if I thought that the Government's exclusion of respondents from the CFC was necessary and narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest, I still would disagree with the Court's disposition, because I think the eligibility criteria, which exclude charities that "seek to influence . . . the determination of public policy,"  is on its face viewpoint based. Petitioner contends that the criteria are viewpoint neutral because they apply equally to all "advocacy" groups regardless of their "political or philosophical leanings."  The relevant comparison, however, is not between the individual organizations that make up the group excluded, but between those organizations allowed access to the CFC and those denied such access....

By devoting its resources to a particular activity, a charity expresses a view about the manner in which charitable goals can best be achieved. Charities working toward the same broad goal, such as "improved health," may have a variety of views about the path to that goal. Some of the "health services" charities participating in the 1982 National Capital Area CFC, for example, obviously believe that they can best achieve "improved health care" through medical research; others obviously believe that their resources are better spent on public education; others focus their energies on detection programs; and still others believe the goal is best achieved through direct care for the sick. Those of the respondents concerned with the goal of improved health, on the other hand, obviously think that the best way to achieve that goal is by changing social policy, creating new rights for various groups in society, or enforcing existing rights through litigation, lobbying, and political activism. That view cannot be communicated through the CFC, according to the Government's eligibility criteria. Instead, Government employees may hear only from those charities that think that charitable goals can best be achieved within the confines of  existing social policy and the status quo. The distinction is blatantly viewpoint based, so I see no reason to remand for a determination of whether the eligibility criteria are a "facade" for viewpoint-based discrimination.

I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

JUSTICE STEVENS, dissenting.

The scholarly debate between JUSTICE O'CONNOR and JUSTICE BLACKMUN concerning the categories of public and quasi-public fora is an appropriate sequel to many of the First Amendment cases decided during the past decade. As is true of the Court's multitiered analysis of equal protection cases, however, I am somewhat skeptical about the value of this analytical approach in the actual decisional process. At least in this case, I do not find the precise characterization of the forum particularly helpful in reaching a decision.

Everyone on the Court agrees that the exclusion of "advocacy" groups from the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) is prohibited by the First Amendment if it is motivated by a bias against the views of the excluded groups. Moreover, everyone also recognizes that the evidence in the record gives rise to at least an inference that "the purported concern to avoid controversy excited by particular groups may conceal a bias against the viewpoint advanced by the excluded speakers." The problem presented by the case is whether that inference is strong enough to support the entry of a summary judgment in favor of respondents....

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