2009-02-26 / Faith

College student punished for mentioning 'God' in class

Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Community College Districts after a professor censored and threatened to expel a student following his presentation in a public speaking class about marriage and the Christian faith.

"Christian students shouldn't be penalized or discriminated against for speaking about their beliefs," ADF senior counsel David French said. "Public institutions of higher learning cannot selectively censor Christian speech. This student was speaking well within the confines of his professor's assignment when he was censored and ultimately threatened with expulsion."

On Nov. 24, 2008, Los Angeles City College speech professor John Matteson reportedly interrupted and ended Jonathan Lopez's presentation mid-speech and called the student a derogatory name in front of the class for speaking about his faith, which included reading the dictionary definition of marriage and reciting two Bible verses.

Instead of allowing Lopez to finish, Matteson reportedly told the other students they could leave if they were offended. When no one left, Matteson dismissed the class. Refusing to grade the assigned speech, Matteson wrote on Lopez's evaluation, "Ask God what your grade is."

One week later, after seeing Lopez talking to the college's dean of academic affairs, Matteson told Lopez that he would make sure he'd be expelled from school. Matteson's treatment of Lopez during his speech follows an earlier incident in which the teacher was said to have told members of his class after the November election, "If you voted yes on Proposition 8, you are a fascist bastard."

"Professor Matteson clearly violated Mr. Lopez's free speech rights by engaging in viewpoint discrimination and retaliation because he disagreed with the student's religious beliefs," said French. "When students are given open-ended assignments in a public speaking class, the First Amendment protects their ability to express their views. Moreover, the district has a speech code that has created a culture of censorship on campus. America's public universities and colleges are supposed to be a 'marketplace of ideas,' not a hotbed of intolerance."

This story was submitted by the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and organizations that defends religious freedom in America's public universities.

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