By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A Christian college student in Los Angeles has filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Community College (LACC) and a professor who harassed him and refused to issue him a grade after he gave a speech about God and marriage during a public speaking class.
Last November, shortly after the citizens of California approved a measure that would prohibit same-sex marriage in the state, a Los Angeles City College student named Jonathan Lopez decided to give an informational speech about the basic tenets of the Christian faith during a public speaking class. His talk included Bible verses that explain how a person can become a Christian and included a definition of marriage from the dictionary.
Lopez never got a chance to finish his speech. The professor, John Matteson, cut him off mid-way through his presentation and called him a “fascist bas***d”. On the evaluation paper for his speech, the professor wrote several comments including, “Ask God what your grade is” and “Proselytizing is inappropriate in public school.”
After Lopez reported the situation to the school’s dean of academic affairs at LACC, the professor threatened him with expulsion.
Lopez decided to fight back and hired an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a Christian legal defense organization. Last week, the ADF filed suit on behalf of Lopez, seeking an injunction against LACC from restricting student speech in the classroom when students are given open-ended assignments. The suit charges the school with violating Lopez’s rights to free speech and due process of law and is asking for compensatory damages of $5,000.
“The school would never have said anything here if it was a vegetarian quoting tracts from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals),” said ADF attorney David French, during an interview about the case on Fox News. “The point is that a Christian student has the same rights to speak as everyone else.”
When asked how he would respond to accusations that Lopez was proselytizing in a public school classroom, French said the answer was easy. “It was an informational speech. He was informing the class about fundamental tenets of the Christian faith.”
French also clarified that the speech was not on gay marriage, as some media outlets are reporting.
“The speech wasn’t even on same-sex marriage as a primary topic. One aspect was ‘what was marriage,'” he explained. “He read from a dictionary definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman.”
Lopez is asking for a jury trial against the Los Angeles Community College District, which operates nine campuses including LACC; its board of trustees; Matteson; and various administrators.
Like most colleges and universities, the LACC has a speech code that prohibits any speech that is offensive or causes a negative impact.
“We’re going to attack the speech code so that all students at the university are free as a result of this lawsuit,” French said.
Lopez is ready to fight. “Colleges are supposed to be safe for free speech and the discussion of many ideas,” he said, according to ADF. “What has happened to me is an assault on my constitutional rights. A victory in this case will guarantee that every student who attends the school now and in the future is allowed to freely express their beliefs, religious or otherwise, without fear.”
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