What is an Open Forum?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
In Roman times, the forum referred to a marketplace where people engaged in discussions regarding matters of public interest.
In Roman times, the forum referred to a marketplace where people engaged in discussions regarding matters of public interest.

The term “open forum” can refer to several things, depending on who is speaking and what the context is. All of these meanings, however, imply the open exchange of ideas and information, usually to better the common good. The word “forum” comes directly from the Latin. In Roman times, the forum was an open marketplace where people could make purchases, have discussions with other citizens, and try to reach agreement on matters of public interest. Some of these meanings have carried through to the modern day.

During an open forum meeting, any person may address the gathering.
During an open forum meeting, any person may address the gathering.

In a loose sense, this term can be used to describe any space in which people may exchange information and ideas. In the United States, for example, most government owned public property is an open forum. In that forum, citizens can protest, hold meetings, and exercise other first amendment rights. Some typical examples include sidewalks, parks, streets, publicly held buildings, and spaces set aside specifically for the purpose.

Open forums are considered an important aspect of a democracy, with public properties in the United States often open to First Amendment exercises such as protests.
Open forums are considered an important aspect of a democracy, with public properties in the United States often open to First Amendment exercises such as protests.

The term is also used to refer to a specific meeting or event. In this instance, an open forum is intended to be a venue in which people can gather to find out about a specific issue, reach a resolution on a controversial subject, or interact with members of their communities. Often, officials and representatives are present to answer questions from the public, facilitate the discussion, and provide information which people may find valuable or useful.

Open forums provide people an opportunity to discuss issues.
Open forums provide people an opportunity to discuss issues.

The idea of the open forum is very important to many democratic nations, since it allows citizens an opportunity to speak out about things which concern them. It also allows residents to have influence in their communities, by giving them a vote in major community decisions. Depending on the nation, a forum may offer citizens an opportunity to vote on proposed development, allocate community funds, or participate in their communities in other ways.

Local government might host an open forum so officials can address public concerns.
Local government might host an open forum so officials can address public concerns.

Although this type of forum is intended to be a space in which free speech is exercised, there are restraints. People are expected to behave politely, although they are welcome to disagree with each other. Violent words or actions are not condoned, and a forum must also be held at a reasonable hour. If citizens intend to exercise their public rights by marching or holding a demonstration, they must apply for permits, just as a group of individuals holding a forum in a municipal building must do. As a general rule, the open forum must be open to everyone, regardless as to race, gender, creed, or economic status.

Are There Open Forums in My Community?

Open forums may be a place, meeting, or event that involves the free exchange of information and ideas, typically — though not always — in a government context. Open forums are public and unrestricted, meaning anyone can participate in them as long as they follow general rules of tact and civility. In some instances, such as with public demonstrations or marches, permits are first required.

The First Amendment protects the right to open forums. Open forums are critical for any democracy to function, as they allow for free discussion so citizens can express any concerns they may have about their community. Open forums are about representation, as citizens know their concerns are being heard by their community leaders and government officials.

Open forums generally revolve around sharing information and ideas that focus on a certain community issue. To moderate and guide the discussion, there are often community leaders or government officials present. These leaders of the forum are also there to answer questions from the public.

Government-owned property is a common place for an open forum. Parks, sidewalks, and public buildings are frequent areas used for this purpose. These places are often referred to as traditional public forums.

More broadly, a forum is a place for discussion, and there is more than one type of forum.

What Are The Different Types of Forums?

Traditional public forums take place on community property. If there is an open forum in a designated area owned by the government, the strongest First Amendment rights apply. Discrimination against speakers for their views is not allowed in this type of forum. There is a specific term for this called viewpoint discrimination, and the First Amendment prohibits it. However, public officials may place certain restrictions on manner, time, and place, so long as they are compellingly necessary.

Designated public forums take place in areas that are not traditional for open discussions, such as state college campuses or municipal theaters. These tend to be open at certain times for public discourse and may no longer be available for use once the discussion is completed. When an area is designated as a public forum, it has the same First Amendment protections as traditional public forums.

Limited forums have certain restrictions on what type of speech can be used. For example, some areas, such as public schools, may only be available to those participating in school-related activities. However, protections against viewpoint discrimination still apply.

Nonpublic forums include those that are none of these subtypes. Viewpoint discrimination protections apply, but restrictions may pertain to certain kinds of speech. Such areas might include polling places or airport terminals.

Does the First Amendment Protect Online Forums?

Because online forums are too commonly used to spread misinformation and influence public opinion in dubious ways, the discussion over whether the First Amendment should apply to online speech is a hot topic. This became an especially prominent theme when Facebook came under scrutiny for allowing the spread of false or misleading news stories and advertisements, especially during the 2016 presidential election.

As it stands now, the First Amendment generally does not apply to online forums because the discussions themselves are a part of a private service. Twitter, for example, is allowed to take action if it finds that a user has violated its Terms of Service, potentially barring the user from ever posting again on the platform.

Unfortunately, misinformation, disinformation, and sneaky forms of misleading the public are still persistent problems online, as there are ways to accomplish these things without breaking the rules. Some users who use online forums for these purposes may not technically be violating the Terms of Service and are therefore allowed to post misleading information.

What Are Online Discussion Forums?

Online discussion forums, not to be confused with social media, appeared in the mid-1990s and are places for people to discuss certain topics, including sports, business, health, finance, or current events. The original concept for online discussion forums came from Usenet newsgroups in 1979. The first online discussion forums were not on the Web but instead were held between UNIX machines that used Usenet, operating as bulletin board systems.

When operating on the Web, online discussion forums use asynchronous communication, meaning users do not need to all be logged on at the same time. This means that, if one user posts a message, another may respond to it even after the original user is not present. A third user may then respond as well, and the original user may return to their terminal to continue the discussion. This type of discussion differs from online chatrooms, which use synchronous communication with all users logged on at the same time and speaking in real-time.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HistoricalIndex researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HistoricalIndex researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

anon349422

@Post 16 re: Bullying in schools. In the 1960's, while in junior high, I was bullied constantly by a clique of girls who didn't like me because I was from out of state. I also caught the attention of the most respected athletic boy because I could run nearly as fast as he could during track meets, and he was a state champion. These girls hated me, and yet came to me when their friends bullied them too, because they knew I, at least, would treat them fairly.

Since then, I've read a great deal about bullying, and thought about the many different sorts of bullies I've met, children and adults. One of the only ways to end bullying is to end bullying inside families. Children bully others, not because they're jealous, or they want attention, or they want power. No, they bully because they want to feel comfortable and in an emotional environment which they understand. It's a case of "the devil you know".

What most people think of as "normal" is not the normal environment of the bully. They treat others in the only way they understand, and the way they understand the world to work. They don't know how to be any different, and the way other people behave just doesn't make any sense to them. If they have to deal with people outside of that environment, it makes them a little crazy, and they proceed to "educate" the offenders to see the world as they see it -- in other words, to behave. To behave in a way they can understand, and subsequently control. If you can control a thing, you don't have to be afraid of it.

Bullying is a subculture, a way of life, handed down from generation to generation. This explanation needs to be taught to young adults before they leave junior high school, before they start to date, create families and raise their kids in the same culture. Someone needs to find these kids, and give them a 101 course -- I'm serious -- on what civilized communities hold in consensus, as "normal" behavior. Also try to give them practical, useful outlets for the behaviors they have learned.

anon348867

Bullying is one of the factors that leads to violence in schools, including school shootings. There are other causes which are identified in a newly published book - "Keep Kids Safe: Don't Let Our Schools Become Killing Zones." It deals with school shootings around the world and is available online. The book suggests public dialogue to find solutions to this kind of violence.

anon346048

A newly published book - Keep Kids Safe: Don't Let Our Schools Become Killing Zones - is a must read for teachers, parents, police and anyone with responsibility for the safety and security of children in schools. The book is available online, and traces the history of school shooting worldwide, focusing on Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Dunblane and many others. The author, Cal Millar, closely examines shootings and details factors that led up to these tragedies.

anon332886

Sorry to say, but bullying happens everywhere. You think your child is exempt from bullying because they go to a private school? You are so wrong. You do realize that glass houses do break?

anon227769

Open forum for schools also means that a school with an open forum has to allow (and can not discriminate) Any community group can use their building i.e. Junior Pro basket ball games on Saturdays; things that help the community but not the school. A closed forum means only the school building can be used by the school or its students.

suntan12

GreenWeaver- I agree with you. You do not have much control in public schools and it is up to the administration to decide what policies they are going to adopt.

I also wanted to say that an open community forum could be found on many internet sites. These forums allow members of that internet community an opportunity to voice concerns over things that have happened to them as well as asking for advice regarding other issues.

Other times these open forums offer members encouragement and praise when they have achieved success. These forums are like the virtual water cooler.

GreenWeaver

Icecream17- I know what you mean. There was a case about a school out west that was going to start providing sex education to kindergarten children.

Another school was giving condoms to sixth graders. While these schools may have good intentions, it is understandable that the parents that have children in these school districts are upset.

These are perfect reasons to adopt an open forum in which the parents can voice their opposition.

This is why my kids go to private school because in a private school parents receive much more respect because they are paying for their child’s education.

This is probably why something like this would never happen in a private school.

icecream17

An open community forum allows people to discuss their views openly.

Many schools offer a limited open forum in which the parents can discuss aspects of the school policies along with academic programs.

Parents in these forums discuss anything from academic standards testing to new school policies. Sometimes the school district will have adopted a controversial policy that is not supported by the parents.

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    • In Roman times, the forum referred to a marketplace where people engaged in discussions regarding matters of public interest.
      By: Beboy
      In Roman times, the forum referred to a marketplace where people engaged in discussions regarding matters of public interest.
    • During an open forum meeting, any person may address the gathering.
      By: Halfpoint
      During an open forum meeting, any person may address the gathering.
    • Open forums are considered an important aspect of a democracy, with public properties in the United States often open to First Amendment exercises such as protests.
      By: wong yu liang
      Open forums are considered an important aspect of a democracy, with public properties in the United States often open to First Amendment exercises such as protests.
    • Open forums provide people an opportunity to discuss issues.
      By: Vladimir Kolobov
      Open forums provide people an opportunity to discuss issues.
    • Local government might host an open forum so officials can address public concerns.
      By: kasto
      Local government might host an open forum so officials can address public concerns.