Faithandthelaw's Blog

The law as it relates to Christians and their free exercise of religion

College demands return of campus speech code

Posted by faithandthelaw on March 7, 2010

 

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has begun reviewing a request by the Los Angeles Community College District for permission to reactivate speech restrictions under which one professor called a Christian student a “fascist b—-rd” for discussing a moral conviction against homosexual marriage.

After erupting angrily in class, the professor, John Matteson, then told the student to “Ask God what your grade is.”


Los Angeles City College professor’s evaluation of student’s speech, marked with the words, “Ask God what your grade is.”

A hearing was held today before the appellate court on the college district’s request to remove a preliminary injunction imposed by a lower court that prohibited enforcement of the speech code – which was found unconstitutional – while a lawsuit against the school moves forward.

According to the Alliance Defense Fund, if the policy is restored, it will allow the college to trump student free-speech rights protected by the First Amendment while the case is litigated.

The case erupted shortly after the presidential election in 2008, when Matteson 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.

According to ADF, after Lopez gave the dictionary definition of marriage and recited two Bible verses, Matteson interrupted and ended Lopez’s presentation mid-speech, calling him and anyone who voted yes on Proposition 8 – the California marriage amendment – a “fascist b—-rd” in front of the class.

“Refusing to grade the assigned speech, the professor wrote on Lopez’s speech evaluation form, ‘Ask God what your grade is,’ and later threatened to expel the student,” ADF reported.

 

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In the ADF lawsuit against the college district, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California issued an injunction, prohibiting the district from enforcing its speech code as the case moves forward. In September, the court denied LACCD’s motion to reconsider the order, asserting the policy “undeniably targets the content of expression” and is “unconstitutionally overbroad by sweeping within its reach a substantial amount of protected speech.”

ADF Litigation Staff Counsel David J. Hacker, who presented the arguments today, told WND a decision isn’t expected for several weeks.

But he said he was pleased the judges on the panel were asking questions about the ability of college students to speak freely.

“Seventy percent of American colleges have unconstitutional speech codes,” Hacker told WND. “Christians and all students should not be punished for simply expressing views on topics that are appropriate on campus.”

The precedent the college seeks has attracted the attention of other free-speech advocates, including the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, FIRE, which battles college speech restrictions nationwide.

FIRE has filed a brief in the case arguing the community college’s policy “contradicts both decades of legal precedent and the guidance of the federal Department of Educations Office for Civil Rights.”

The brief contends if the district policy is permitted, “it would gravely endanger the free speech rights of LACCD students and exacerbate the free speech crisis on America’s college campuses.”

“By continuing to defend an indefensible and unconstitutional speech code with this appeal, LACCD has proven not only that it does not care about its students’ First Amendment rights, but that it doesn’t care about wasting taxpayer dollars to argue against the Bill of Rights in court,” said Will Creeley, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy. “FIRE is confident that the Ninth Circuit will recognize the impermissible flaws in LACCD’s policy and reject this misguided appeal.”

The policy the school wants affirmed banishes “generalized sexist statements” as well as “actions and behavior that convey insulting, intrusive or degrading attitudes/comments about women or men.”

“Despite over two decades of federal jurisprudence finding policies precisely like LACCD’s unconstitutional, LACCD is shamefully attempting to deny its students the First Amendment rights to which they are legally entitled,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “FIRE’s brief explains why the Ninth Circuit must affirm the district court’s decision and make LACCD’s sexual harassment policy the latest addition to an unbroken string of unconstitutional codes struck down in federal court.”

Lopez quoted Romans 10:9, “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

He told ADF, “Colleges are supposed to be safe for free speech and the discussion of many ideas. 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.”

Courtesy of World Net Daily at  http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=126877

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