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Court rules for student in free-speech case

A state appeals court ruled Tuesday that Novato school officials violated the free-speech rights of a student by condemning an opinion article he wrote in the student newspaper opposing illegal immigration and confiscating copies of the paper, the Marin Independent Journal reports.

The First District Court of Appeal held that California law “mandates that a school may not prohibit student speech simply because it presents controversial ideas and opponents of the speech are likely to cause disruption.”

The ruling reverses a 2005 decision by Marin County Superior Court Judge John Sutro that favored school officials and ordered that the student, Andrew Smith, and his father pay more than $20,981 in litigation costs to the Novato Unified School District. Smith, who now is a corporal in the Marine Corps reserves and is training in Thailand, claimed in his 2002 lawsuit that district officials denied his freedom of speech by apologizing to students and parents for the first article and confiscating remaining copies of the newspaper. He said his rights were violated when the district delayed publication of the second article by requiring a counterpoint article.

Tuesday’s decision means that Smith will be given back litigation fees that he paid in 2005. He will be awarded nominal damages of $1.

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