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California has what's known as Leonard's law that protects free speech when on a private school campus, whereas the rest of the country says private schools can control speech on their campuses.

I'm asking specifically about a Lasallian school which is a religious school and Leonard's law says that the school can restrict speech if it is against the religious tenets of the organization. Now I don't think school uniforms fall are part of the tenets of Catholicism, so why can private schools enforce dress codes?

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Leonard's law says that the school can restrict speech if it is against the religious tenets of the organization. Now I don't think school uniforms fall are part of the tenets of Catholicism, so why can private schools enforce dress codes?

I see there's a misunderstanding of the Leonard's law. But I fault the California legislators (not you) for that confusion, since the statutory language is ambiguous and leads to the reasonable interpretation your inquiry reflects. The statute reads:

(c) This section does not apply to a 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.

It is not that a religious school is allowed to restrict speech if it contravenes the tenets of that religion, but that the statute altogether is inapplicable to religious schools because it is considered an infringement of fundamental liberties to which religious institutions are entitled in the US.

The [religious] school would prevail on the basis of the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. See Dermody v. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 530 S.W.3d 467, 474 (2017):

The ecclesiastical-abstention doctrine prohibits courts from deciding cases "dependent on the question of doctrine, discipline, ecclesiastical law, rule, or custom, or church government[.]".

(Please note that I strongly disagree with the application of that doctrine in the Dermody case and I consider it impermissibly outdated for the controversy litigated therein, but that is a separate issue).

A religious school could convincingly argue that the judicial review of its uniforms policy infringes matters of ecclesiastical discipline/rule/custom, aspects which ultimately "involve an internal church dispute over religious authority or dogma" Roman Cath. Archbishop of LA v. Super. Ct., 32 Cal.Rptr.3d 209, 220 (2005).

Infringements of ecclesiastical abstention and akin doctrines would be outweighed only in

"compelling" [cases] because "the duty to prosecute persons who commit serious crimes is part and parcel of the government's `paramount responsibility for the general safety and welfare of all its citizens'"

Roman Cath. Archbishop of LA v. Super. Ct. at 225 (brackets added in this answer). A free speech controversy such as the school's uniform policy simply does not meet that threshold.

  • So if a student at a religous private school, decided to carry a sign around that protested say, Chocolate Cake, and the school administration forced him to take it down, the court couldn't decide if Chocolate Cake was under the purview of the Church? – Jake Potrebic Aug 4 '18 at 16:32
  • @JakePotrebic The court couldn't review the school's decision because that is definitely --according to the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine-- under the purview of the Church. The student's protest sign of Chocolate Cake does not involve a crime serious enough to strike the doctrine (see the Roman Cath. case, at 225 and 226). P.S: I have edited my answer now that I found the statutory language of Leonard's law. – Iñaki Viggers Aug 4 '18 at 18:49

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