CALIFORNIA — A Los Angeles City College student, claiming hisspeech professor called him a “fascist bastard” during apresentation on his religious beliefs last fall, has teamed up with the AllianceDefense Fund in a lawsuit against district officials.
Jonathan Lopez, according to the lawsuit, got halfway through his speechabout God and the miracles he experienced in his life before his professor, JohnMatteson, interrupted him. Lopez read two Bible verses and referred to thedictionary definition of “marriage” as being between a man and awoman — at which point Matteson chastised him and dismissed the class.Instead of grading the speech, Matteson wrote on his evaluation that Lopezshould “ask God what your grade is.”
“It’s viewpoint discrimination,” said David Hacker, staffcounsel for the ADF, a Christian non-profit legal organization. “Thecollege isn’t respecting the First Amendment rights of its Christianstudents.”
After the classroom incident, Lopez reportedly delivered a writtendescription of the events to school officials but continued to suffer ridiculefrom his professor throughout the remainder of the semester. In anotherconfrontation outlined in the complaint, Matteson supposedly told Lopez it wasnot “very Christian” of him to enter the classroom while anotherstudent was speaking.
While Lopez did receive a grade for the course — an A — hisspeech about religious beliefs was never scored. Just because the class iscompleted, Hacker said, does not mean the case is closed.
The suit was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Central District ofCalifornia on Feb. 11 and names the members of the district’s board oftrustees, several school officials, and Matteson as defendants.
“No one, whether or not they’re a good student, should have toface censorship,” he said. “That’s essentially whathappened.”
In a letter to the ADF from the college, Dean of Academic Affairs AllisonJones called the incident “extremely serious in nature” and assuredthe discipline process was started immediately. Jones also disclosed languagefrom statements by two students in Lopez’s class calling his speechinappropriate, offensive and hateful. Regardless of other students’reactions, Jones said in the letter, “Mr. Matteson will still bedisciplined.”
In addition to the allegations against Matteson, the ADF’s lawsuitalso condemns the Los Angeles Community College District’s speech code as”repressive” and “unconstitutional.”
The complaint also challenges the district’s sexual harassmentpolicy, which offers the following guidelines for avoiding a hostileenvironment: “If unsure if certain comments or behavior are offensive donot do it, do not say it.”
“The combination of Defendant Matteson’s censorship andhostility toward Mr. Lopez’s Christian viewpoints … and theDistrict’s sexual harassment policies that prohibit students from sayinganything ‘offensive,’ has chilled Mr. Lopez’s expression atthe College and caused him to refrain from discussing his beliefs with respectto political, social, and cultural issues and events,” the complaintreads.
According to Hacker, the district’s speech code is not in line withthe values an institution of higher learning should espouse.
“The college’s speech code … has basically led the universityto call open season on views that don’t line up with theirorthodoxy,” Hacker said. “We’re supposed to be talking aboutthe marketplace of ideas here.”
While officials from the college district would not comment directly on thelawsuit, the office of the LACC president released a statement highlighting thedistrict’s policy on academic freedom. The policy states that prohibiteddiscrimination is subject to discipline up to and including discharge, expulsionor termination of contract.
The district’s policy also states that the “discussion ofideas, taboos, behavior or language which is an intrinsic part of the coursecontent shall in no event constitute Prohibited Discrimination. It is recognizedthat an essential function of education is a probing of received opinions and anexploration of ideas which may cause some students discomfort. It is furtherrecognized that academic freedom insures the faculty’s right to teach and thestudent’s right to learn.”
John Matteson did not return calls for comment.