California Leonard Law (high school) (2011)

In addition to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, states can provide additional free speech protection to their own citizens by enacting state laws or regulations. California Educ. Code Sec. 48950, also known as the “Leonard Law,” does just that. California is the only state that has enacted a law that prohibits private high schools from making or enforcing any rule that would subject a student to disciplinary action for engaging in expression (on or off campus) that would be protected by the First Amendment or the California Constitution’s free expression provision if it occurred off campus.

The legislative history of the law states: “It is the intent of the Legislature that a student shall have the same right to exercise his or her right to free speech on campus as he or she enjoys when off campus.”

Section 48950

(a) School districts operating one or more high schools and private secondary schools shall not make or enforce any rule subjecting any high school pupil to disciplinary sanctions solely on the basis of conduct that is speech or other communication that, when engaged in outside of the campus, is protected from governmental restriction by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or Section 2 of Article 1 of the California Constitution.

(b) Any pupil enrolled in a school that has made or enforced any rule in violation of subdivision (a) may commence a civil action to obtain appropriate injunctive and declaratory relief as determined by the court. Upon motion, a court may award attorney’s fees to a prevailing plaintiff in a civil action pursuant to this section.

(c) This section does not apply to any private secondary school that is controlled by a religious organization, to the extent that the application of this section would not be consistent with the religious tenets of the organization.

(d) Nothing in this section prohibits the imposition of discipline for harassment, threats, or intimidation, unless constitutionally protected.

(e) Nothing in this section shall be construed to supersede, or otherwise limit or modify, the provisions of Section 48907.

(f) The Legislature finds and declares that free speech rights are subject to reasonable time, place, and manner regulations.