California Leonard Law (private colleges) (2009)

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. 94367, also known as the “Leonard Law,” does just that. California is the only state that has enacted a law that prohibits private colleges 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 94367. Freedom of speech; students’ remedies; hate violence

(a) No private postsecondary educational institution shall make or enforce any rule subjecting any student to disciplinary sanctions solely on the basis of conduct that is speech or other communication that, when engaged in outside the campus or facility of a private postsecondary institution, 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 student enrolled in a private postsecondary institution 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 postsecondary educational institution 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 shall be construed to authorize any prior restraint of student speech.

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

(f) Nothing in this section prohibits an institution from adopting rules and regulations that are designed to prevent hate violence, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 4 of Chapter 1363 of the Statutes of 1992, from being directed at students in a manner that denies them their full participation in the educational process, so long as the rules and regulations conform to standards established by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 2 of Article 1 of the California Constitution for citizens generally.