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Proposed Bill Would Impact Free Speech at Schools

By Sean P. Farrell - March 10, 2011

In March of 2003, two members of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform drove enlarged images of aborted fetuses around a middle school campus in Southern California. According to accounts by Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), some students going to class that day cried in response, some became angry, others stood in the streets and gawked, but all were shocked when confronted by a graphic exercise of the group’s right to free speech.

School administrators called the police, and the group was forced to leave the area. The Center for Bio-Ethical reform then filed a lawsuit claiming that the administrators and the authorities had violated their first and fourth amendment rights. They lost in district court, appealed, and won. It was, however, the opinion of the appellate court that were the legislature to amend Penal Code section 626.8, the outcome of the case could be otherwise.

AB 123 aims to do just that. This piece of legislation would expand current law relating to the protection of students to include the time of their travels to and from school, as well as their time in attendance of school activities. It states that any person “willfully or knowingly creates a disruption with the intent to threaten the immediate physical safety of any pupil… arriving at, attending, or leaving from school.”

The author of the bill, Assembly Member Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), emphasizes that the goal of this bill is not to restrict anyone’s right to free expression. Also in the bill is a restatement of current law that the provisions in this section of law “shall not be utilized to impinge upon the lawful exercise of constitutionally protected rights of speech or assembly.”

It will be up to school administrators and the Los Angeles Police Department whether or not to reopen the lawsuit in question. But regardless of that specific case, this bill’s primary goal is to prevent the safety of California’s students from being marginalized now and in the future. Additionally, it will provide school employees a new degree of confidence when considering actions to halt the activities of those that are putting the wellbeing of students at risk.

Editor's Note:  Sean P. Farrell is the Capitol Reporting Intern for EdBrief.