Judge Sides with Christian Students
District's policy had created the environment that emboldened his speech professor to call Lopez a "fascist ba***rd" for his Christian beliefs.
Lopez decided to give an informational speech to students on his own Christian beliefs, including Christian views on marriage. Lopez had read aloud the definition of marriage from the dictionary and had also quoted two verses from the Bible, when Matteson interjected in the middle of the speech and called Lopez a 'fascist ba***rd' before his classmates.
U.S. District Judge George H. King agreed with Jonathan Lopez, a student attending Los Angeles City College (LACC), that the District's policy as written had created the environment that emboldened his speech professor to call Lopez a "fascist ba***rd" for explaining his Christian beliefs and how they related to his views against same-sex "marriage."
King stated in a ruling handed down last week that key sections of the policy were "unconstitutionally overbroad" and then issued the preliminary injunction on the policy, saying that the way the policy was constructed meant it "cannot be rendered constitutional by excising words or severing sections."
Represented by lawyers with the Alliance Defense Fund, Lopez had filed a lawsuit against the District and LACC back in February after he had been censored and threatened with expulsion by Professor John Matteson, who had assigned the members of his public-speaking class in mid-November to give an informational speech on any topic.
Lopez decided to give an informational speech to students on his own Christian beliefs, including Christian views on marriage. Lopez had read aloud the definition of marriage from the dictionary and had also quoted two verses from the Bible, when Matteson interjected in the middle of the speech and called Lopez a "fascist ba***rd" before his classmates.
Matteson refused to let Lopez finish, and instead invited other students to leave if they felt offended. But with no student taking up Matteson's invitation to depart, Matteson ordered the class dismissed. Instead of giving the assignment a grade, Matteson mocked Lopez on his written evaluation, taunting, "Ask God what your grade is."
A week after the incident, Matteson threatened to see to Lopez's expulsion after he saw Lopez speaking with the college's dean of academic affairs.
Faced with legal action, the District disciplined Matteson, and gave Lopez an A in the course; however the ADF argued that the District's sexual harassment policy had created an environment in which Matteson felt comfortable to intimidate Lopez from stating his beliefs.
Judge King agreed that the policy violated First Amendment protections of free speech by silencing viewpoints that others would find offensive, because it failed to contain "both a subjective and objective requirement." King pointed to the District's website indicated any conduct involving sexuality could fall under the heading of sexual harassment including "sexist statements." In this context, the site stated, "If [you are] unsure if certain comments or behavior are offensive do not do it, do not say it. ... Ask if something you do or say is being perceived as offensive or unwelcome."
"Thus, the Policy 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," wrote King. "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."
King paid particular attention to one passage from the policy that included under the sexual harassment code "conduct [of a sexual nature that] has the purpose or effect of having a negative impact upon the individual's work or academic performance, or of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work or educational environment."
"The Policy reaches speech unrelated to a class, such as discussions in any public and common areas at LACC. Even speech related to a class can be restricted by the Policy if the speech is not an intrinsic part of the course content," King wrote in his order.
King's order forbids the LA Community College District and the LA City College from carrying out or even promulgating the sexual harassment policy and to remove all references to the policy from its websites within fourteen days of the injunction.
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