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Court puts brakes on oppressive speech code at L.A. City College

Court grants motion in favor of student called ‘fascist bastard’ by professor for Christian beliefs
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LOS ANGELES — A federal court Monday granted a motion filed by attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom to halt enforcement of a Los Angeles City College District policy that violates student free speech rights. The court’s order, which halts the policy while a student’s lawsuit against the district moves forward, also requires the removal of all of the policy’s language on district Web sites because the court determined that ADF attorneys are likely to succeed in their argument that the policy is unconstitutional.

“Christian students shouldn’t be penalized for expressing their beliefs at a public college,” said ADF Senior Counsel David French, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “We are pleased that the court has taken this step to ensure that the First Amendment rights of students are not violated. We will continue to litigate this case to make sure the constitutional rights of our client and other students at the college are protected.”

In February, ADF attorneys filed suit against LACCD officials after a professor censored and threatened to expel student Jonathan Lopez following a speech he gave about his Christian faith during an open-ended assignment in a public speaking class.

On Nov. 24, 2008, professor John Matteson interrupted and ended 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. Refusing to grade the assigned speech, Matteson wrote on Lopez’s speech evaluation form, “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.

The order issued by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Lopez v. Candaele applies to the school’s speech policy that ADF attorneys argued allows similar types of abuses. It requires the college and the district to delete all unconstitutionally overbroad language in the speech policy posted on their Web sites within 14 days.

According to the order, the policy, which is part of the district’s sexual harassment policy, is problematic because it “reaches constitutionally protected speech that is merely offensive to some listeners, such as discussions of religion, homosexual relations and marriage, sexual morality and freedom, polygamy, or even gender politics and policies.... While it may be desirable to promote harmony and civility, these values cannot be enforced at the expense of protected speech under the First Amendment.”

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.