Jonathan Lopez is a student at Los Angeles City College, a college in the Los Angeles Community College District. During the fall 2008 semester, College officials censored Mr. Lopez’s public expression and then retaliated against him for reporting the censorship. When delivering a speech in a public speaking class pursuant to an open-ended assignment, Mr. Lopez discussed his Christian faith and read the dictionary definition of marriage as being between a man and woman. Upon hearing this, Professor John Matteson silenced Mr. Lopez in the middle of his speech. Professor Matteson refused to allow Mr. Lopez to finish his assignment, publicly accused him of being a “fascist bastard,” and refused to give him a grade for the assignment, telling him instead to “ask God” for his grade. Mr. Lopez reported these actions to Dean Allison Jones, who took no public action to correct the censorship. When Professor Matteson saw Mr. Lopez reporting the incident to Jones, he told Mr. Lopez that he would find a way to get him expelled. When Mr. Lopez complained again to Dean Jones and College President Jamillah Moore, they took no action to protect his constitutional rights and instead accused him of engaging in hateful propaganda. Dean Jones and President Moore made these allegations based on the District’s vague and overbroad speech code. This speech code is enforced, in part, through a system of reporting that encourages students to file complaints about their fellow students whenever those students utter words or engage in actions deemed subjectively “offensive” or “harassing.” Attorneys with the ADF Center for Academic Freedom filed suit on Mr. Lopez’s behalf in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on February 11, 2009.
On July 10, 2009, the district court entered a preliminary injunction against the District’s unconstitutional speech code. The court held that the speech code was overly broad and allowed administrators to punish speech that is protected by the First Amendment. The college appealed to the United State Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which ruled that Jonathan Lopez did not have standing to challenge the speech code. On March 16, 2011, ADF submitted a a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States.
The First Amendment protects Christian students’ right to equality of opportunity on campus. Students should be able to express their views during appropriate classroom activities without fear of retaliation. In addition, university speech codes stifle the “marketplace of ideas” and unconstitutionally limit student speech on campus. These speech codes should be repealed and brought into conformity with the First Amendment.
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