.- A lawsuit has been filed against officials of the Los Angeles Community College District after a professor allegedly censored and threatened to expel a student for his speech about marriage and his Christian faith in a public speaking class.
For his public speaking class under Los Angeles Community College (LACC) Professor John Matteson, Jonathan Lopez spoke on Nov. 24, 2008 about his Christianity. His speech included reading the dictionary definition of marriage and reciting two Bible verses.
Prof. Matteson interrupted Lopez mid-speech, allegedly calling him a âfascist bastard.â He told the other students they could leave if they were offended. When no one left, he dismissed the class.
The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which is filing the lawsuit on Lopezâs behalf, made available the evaluation sheet Prof. Matteson gave Lopez. Though giving several high marks, the professor wrote âask God what your grade isâ and âproselytism is inappropriate in public school.â
The ADF alleges school officials did not respond to Lopezâs complaints about censorship and ridicule.
One week after Lopezâs speech, after seeing Lopez talk to the collegeâs dean of academic affairs, Matteson allegedly told Lopez that he would make sure he would be expelled from school.
Matteson reportedly continued to target Lopezâs faith for public ridicule throughout the semester.
"Christian students shouldn't be penalized or discriminated against for speaking about their beliefs," ADF Senior Counsel David French said in a statement. "Public institutions of higher learning cannot selectively censor Christian speech. This student was speaking well within the confines of his professor's assignment when he was censored and ultimately threatened with expulsion."
Allison Jones, Dean of Academic Affairs at LACC, in a Dec. 4 letter to ADF Litigation Staff Counsel David J. Hacker said she had met with Lopez and heard his complaints.
âI also asked him to provide supporting documentation from students whom he indicated supported his accounting of the classroom incident with Mr. Matteson. He indicated he would. Instead, he chose to involve your organization.â
Jones said she had assured Lopez she would immediately start the âprogressive discipline process,â adding that she had already done so. She wrote that she had again requested written statements.
âHe provided me with the first statement but chose to use you to provide the additional complaint.â
âI view this classroom incident to be extremely serious in nature and will be able to expedite the process,â Jones wrote. âHowever, since this is a personnel matter, I cannot violate Mr. Mattesonâs privacy. Suffice it to say, action is being taken, but specific details may not be shared with Mr. Lopez or you.â
Jones insisted that Lopezâs concerns were âin no way ignored.â
She then cited two studentsâ statements she had received which had also been signed by several classmates.
âContrary to Mr. Lopezâ assumptions, these classmates were deeply offended by his speech,â Jones wrote.
One student said âHis speech was not of the informative style that our assignment called for, but rather a preachy, persuasive speech that was completely inappropriate and deeply offensive. I respect his right to freedom of speech, but I also do not believe that our classroom is the proper platform for him to spout his hateful propaganda.â
A second student said âI donât know what kind of actions can be taken in this situation, but I expect that this student should have to pay some price for preaching hate in the classroom.â
âRegardless of the other studentsâ reactions to Mr. Lopezâ speech,â Jones wrote in her letter, âMr. Matteson will still be disciplined. First Amendment rights will not be violated as is evidenced by the fact that even though many of the students were offended by Mr. Lopezâ speech, no action will be taken against any of them for expressing their opinions.â
CNA spoke by phone on Tuesday with David Hacker, litigation staff counsel at the ADF.
He said the ADF is still filing suit because âthis is really about protecting Jonathan Lopezâ right to free speech on campus and really the free speech rights of all students at the college. Itâs a prime example where Christians simply cannot be targeted for punishment for expressing their views on campus.â
Though the universities are supposed to be the âmarketplace of ideas,â Hacker charged âthey have really become islands of intolerance.â
He explained many universities and schools, like LACC have hate speech codes which âdeclare open season on views that donât fit their leftist orthodoxy.â
Countering Lopezâs fellow students cited by Jones, Hacker said the complaint itself backs up Lopezâs account, especially its lines âask God what your grade isâ and âproselytizing is not allowed in public schools.â
âHere is a classic and blatant form of viewpoint discrimination and, really, retaliation against Mr. Lopez,â Hacker told CNA.
âMr. Lopez made a sworn statement saying that the professor shut him down midway through the speech and told other students they could leave if they were offended by this. Nobody left, and then the professor dismissed the class.â
He also argued that it is irrelevant what other students might have felt was offensive.âThatâs the whole problem with LACCâs speech code. It allows students and administrators to selectively censor anyoneâs speech. Weâre seeing this happen time again. Itâs really an unconstitutional epidemic where speech codes are used to shut down Christian speech.â