LOS ANGELES — Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom filed a lawsuit against officials of the Los Angeles Community College District Wednesday. The lawsuit comes after a professor censored and threatened to expel a student following a speech about his Christian faith, including passing reference to the topic of marriage, during an open-ended assignment in a public speaking class.
"Christian students shouldn't be penalized or discriminated against for speaking about their beliefs," said ADF Senior Counsel David French. "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."
On Nov. 24, 2008, Los Angeles City College speech professor John Matteson interrupted and ended Jonathan Lopez's presentation mid-speech, calling him a "fascist bastard" in front of the class for speaking about his faith, which included reading the dictionary definition of marriage and reciting two Bible verses. Instead of allowing Lopez to finish, Matteson told the other students they could leave if they were offended. When no one left, Matteson dismissed the class. Refusing to grade the assigned speech, Matteson wrote on Lopez's evaluation, "Ask God what your grade is."
One week later, after seeing Lopez talking to the college's dean of academic affairs, Matteson told Lopez that he would make sure he'd be expelled from school. Matteson's treatment of Lopez during his speech follows an earlier incident in which Matteson told his entire class after the November election, "If you voted yes on Proposition 8, you are a fascist bastard."
"Professor Matteson clearly violated Mr. Lopez's free speech rights by engaging in viewpoint discrimination and retaliation because he disagreed with the student's religious beliefs," said French. "When students are given open-ended assignments in a public speaking class, the First Amendment protects their ability to express their views. Moreover, the district has a speech code that has created a culture of censorship on campus. America's public universities and colleges are supposed to be a 'marketplace of ideas,' not a hotbed of intolerance."
ADF-allied attorney Sam Kim and attorney Michael Parker of the Buena Park firm Sam Kim and Associates, APC, are serving as local counsel in the case.
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom defends religious freedom at America's public universities. ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.