Student Sues L.A. City College Over Prop 8 Speech

A student who was stopped from giving a speech in support of Proposition 8 during a public speaking class and threatened with expulsion at L.A. City College is suing the school, the L.A. Times reports:

Lacc“Student Jonathan Lopez says his professor called him a ‘fascist bastard’ and refused to let him finish his speech against same-sex marriage during a public speaking class last November, weeks after California voters approved the ban on such unions. When Lopez tried to find out his mark for the speech, the professor, John Matteson, allegedly told him to ‘ask God what your grade is,’ the suit says. Lopez also said the teacher threatened to have him expelled when he complained to higher-ups. In addition to financial damages, the suit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, seeks to strike down a sexual harassment code barring students from uttering ‘offensive’ statements…Lopez, a Los Angeles resident working toward an associate of arts degree, is described in the suit as a Christian who considers it a religious duty to share his beliefs, particularly with other students. He declined to comment. Matteson could not be reached…The suit names the Los Angeles Community College District, which operates nine campuses including L.A. City College; its board of trustees; Matteson; and various administrators. Lopez is asking for a jury trial.”

Student sues L.A. City College district over gay-marriage speech [la times]


  1. Clay says

    This kid, misguided little asshole though he may be, has the right to free speech and self-expression according to law and common decency, just like everybody else. Censoring him didn’t make any less anti-gay, it created a much bigger story than his little speech would have, and lets our enemies paint us and our allies as PC “liberal fascists.” Our liberty cannot be preserved or advanced by denying it to others.

    Even if they are snot-nosed little pricks.

  2. PatrickPatrick says

    If the allegations are true, the professor should be disciplined. Dissent and minority opinions are important on campus and in a free society.

    One of the most important assignments in any speech or debate class is to argue either side of an issue as instructed. This may not have been the case here. But students should be able to express points of view no matter how unpopular (or wrong) they may be.

  3. alguien says

    while i am against subject matter being subject to censorship when it comes to situations like public speaking classes, there seem to be a little more here than meets the eye. the description of said “fascist bastard” “is described in the suit as a Christian who considers it a religious duty to share his beliefs, particularly with other students” is particularly telling and shines some light on what must have been in that speech. if the speech was as full of anti-gay rhetoric as i suspect it may have been, the instructor was possibly justified in pulling the plug.

  4. TANK says

    I wonder what the actual speech that this turnip delivered involved. Specifically, what could arguably be construed as a violation of the sexual harassment code.

    And do any of you libertarians know what free speech actually is in this country? It wouldn’t seem so.

  5. says

    The concept of open and free inquiry is fundamental to higher education. This kid should be able to espouse any position he wishes, as long as he is able to support it with the best available evidence. Conversely, opposing opinions should be offered as long as the evidence supports it. Stifling unpopular speech, even if it’s a shitbag of lies that are easy to expose, is not consistent with academic integrity. I agree with the instructor that the kid was likely acting like a fascist bastard, but in this case if the speaker was participating within the accepted boundaries of academic debate, then the instructor was wrong.

  6. says

    Furthermore… this was a golden opportunity to teach students how to debate hot-button issues intelligently, without resorting to the cheap ad hominem attack. How much better off would America be if people were taught in college to debate issues based on evidence rather than opinion? The instructor missed a valuable chance here.

  7. JerzeeMike says

    JERSEY, it may interest you to know that there are a great many people in the LGBT community that have reconciled their faith with their sexuality and have found homes among welcoming and inclusive Christian denominations. Just because there are ignorant people who profess to be Christian that do not practice Christ’s teachings doesn’t mean you should throw all Christians to the lions. You are entitled to your opinions but try to be bigger than those who cast dispersions on you. Don’t let ignorant, bigoted humans keep you from God’s love, it’s there if you want it.

  8. Jon says

    At first I agreed with most people:the Lopez is entitled to say whatever he wants. Then I thought…what if his speech was in opposition of racial minorities, or religious minorities…The professor probably used his/her best judgment when it came to pulling the plug on Mr. Lopez, perhaps to prevent a larger argument. There is a tactful way to present any information, and my guess is that Mr. Lopez’s speech lacked this to the point of being offensive to the class.

  9. TANK says

    What does many “great” people in the LGBT community reconciling their faith with their sexuality and gender identity have to do with the legitimacy of christ’s teachings and christianity? Or, for that matter, excusing or even slightly diminishing the damage christianity has done to women and lgbt people throughout history? Not a damn thing.

    Try to be bigger than those who take rights away from lgbt people, literally call them subhuman, and inveigh against their right to EXIST? Bigger than that? Try to become even more irrelevant to the debate by not contributing, if you can help it. But apparently you’re recruiting with “god’s love”.

  10. TANK says

    I’ve noticed that amongst LGBT religious folks who seem completely oblivious to atheist arguments and, really, any form of critical thought about their faith in general are quick to dismiss gays and lesbians who are atheist as merely reacting against the negative treatment they’ve experienced at the hands of religious bigots. That not only dimisses and minimizes the bigotry that christianists perpetuate against lgbt people on a daily basis and the human suffering they are directly responsible for, but it is an insult to the intellect of lgbt who happen to also be atheists–who (so goes the line of reasoning offered by the religious), but for the cruelties they’d suffered, would suspend rationality and guide their lives with adherence to bedtime stories and embrace the existence of a man who has no real historical record of existing…as the son of god.

    It’s deeply insulting on many levels.

  11. Scrufff says

    As a former LACC alum, i only experienced homo phobia once during my time there. It was in a psych class where we had to speak to the class about our personal histories. Well there was one young latino who took offense that i was, in his words “wasting the class’ time” by sharing my coming out experience with them. He simmered with hate and finally exploded with an angry tirade against gays and how we are not part of “god’s plans.” Shocked by this outburst i stood in front of the class not knowing what to do. The professor rose from her seat and demanded that him to refrain from such out bursts. When he did not the ENTIRE class boo him down until humiliated he shut up. I was pleasantly surprised by my classmates’ (who btw were mostly made up of low income minorities) support of me – the token gay.

    side note: Funny being just a block or two from Silverlake the campus is surround by gays and gay establishment. The Faultline Bar, arguably LA’s best leather bar is literally right across the street from LACC, while the Eagle Bar is about 3 blocks from the campus.

  12. John in CA says

    It depends on what was said. I don’t think we know enough about the circumstances to draw any conclusions. It is a judgment call on the part of the professor.

    While academic freedom is important, not every form of speech is acceptable within a classroom environment. If someone engages in a profanity laced “filibuster,” I’d probably pull the plug after a few minutes.

    I know how quickly things can get out of control. I’ve been in university classrooms where initially calm discussions escalated into a shouting match (between Palestinian and Jewish students). The professor put a stop to it. And he was absolutely right to do so. Had he allowed the venomous tone of debate to continue, someone might’ve thrown a punch.

  13. says

    We need to press the press, and everyone involved, to find exactly which Bible verses Mr. Lopez chose to share. If, as I suspect, he used the pair from Leviticus – the second is basically a death threat – it demands the death penalty.

    If he quoted Lev. 20:13 (“They must be put to death;”) and asserted that it applied to same-sex marriage, he issued a death threat to any GLBTQ student in that classroom and campus, to any GLBTQ faculty.

    Free speech does not protect death threats. Actually, the phrase “fascist bastard” is more likely to be covered as protected speech, than death threats against all GLBTQ people.

    The really interesting thing about all of the coverage is that there is great specificity about what the professor is alleged to have said – but not one of the more than 30 citations I’ve found, mentions which Bible verses Mr. Lopez shared.

    With any luck, the students he offended will chose to counter-sue.

  14. MAJeff says

    ***You are entitled to your opinions but try to be bigger than those who cast dispersions on you. Don’t let ignorant, bigoted humans keep you from God’s love, it’s there if you want it.***

    I just adore arrogant religionists.

  15. Cj says

    As I read and listen to others’ comments and experiences with religion, I often wonder, what is the defining characteristic of a Christian or Catholic? Are they better than an atheist? More pointedly, are religion and morality mutually exclusive? Personally, I was baptized Catholic, went to Sunday school and a Jesuit High School (mostly for the education of a private school as my family is hardly religious, they haven’t been to church outside of a funeral or wedding in years), but I grew up believing that organized religion is not the only method for understanding morality. The ten commandments are not exclusive to religion, many individuals socially embrace the fundamentals of religious belief such as “thou shall not kill”. Agreeing on that note, what is/are the fundamental difference(s) between organized religion and morality? I do not believe that “love thy neighbor” is a strong example as it seems more members of organized religious groups would rather be exclusive in their views towards minority groups such as the LGBT community. As such, stating that only a small sect of organized religion is exclusive is a misnomer as Prop 8 in California contradicts such statements (as well as the recent anti-LGBT video being aired in W.V.). Historically organized religion has caused more grief through wars in the name of God, segregation in the name of God, legalized hatred in the name of God, than any good it attempts to accomplish. I understand why some individuals need to believe in something higher than themselves to make sense of life and to give them some hope of a life after passing (which may explain why so many wealthy, older, caucasian conservative men find “faith” so late in life), yet these rationale seem more self-serving than “for the greater good”.

  16. says

    Actually, I agree that he should have been allowed to speak and then open the floor for further discussion and debate afterward. Odds, he’d take a smack down by at least a few students who were gay and/or just plain offended. I did something similar in a speech class in college to some idiot who gave a speech on the spread of AIDS through mosquito bites. His conclusion was that all gays should be rounded up and placed in camps to prevent the spread of the disease (this was in the 80s by the way). I was taking notes during the speech and just ripped him apart afterwards with questions he couldn’t even begin to answer. The best thing was that he based his entire position on some religious/science based magazine article and had nothing else to back it up with. I say…bring it on, bitch!

  17. Luke says

    Why do these narrow minded wing nuts/Republicans have to “share” thier faith with others? I for one don’t care nor want to hear what fairy tale they think of as real. He should have been allowed to speak, and, laughed at the whole time.

  18. JerzeeMike says

    It’s unfortunate that some people have taken to abandoning decorum when it comes to discussing posts on Towleroad lately. I’m talking to you, TANK & MAJEFF. If you disagree with what’s being said feel free to discuss it but to disparage another’s opinions and beliefs in such a retched manner makes you come across as arrogant and ignorant.

    TANK, I respect your atheist viewpoint and support you expressing that POV without the diatribes, don’t you think others deserve the same courtesy? If you actually knew me you’d be surprised by just how open-minded I am to differing views. Instead, ANYONE who disagrees gets labeled an, “arrogant religionist” or some other mean-spirited, immature name-calling. The shame is that I use to enjoy this blog and the discussions that many of its thoughtful readers posted of the years. But lately I’ve noticed that certain posters seem to enjoy attacking anyone who dares differ on certain topics. It’s become little more than an electronic schoolyard and certain posters have taken the role as the bully.

  19. TANK says

    Well, I don’t doubt that your mind is wide open, mike…I really don’t…

    Manners and fairness, though… And yet you don’t show the atheist view any respect with your sanctimonious “try to be bigger than those who cast aspersions on you” and don’t let thousands of years of christian bigotry and oppression (the NORM) spoil god’s “real message” for you…oy…. Only by defect of history do we actually expect our groundless beliefs to be respected without a shred of evidence for them or, really, any good reason at all to believe them. There’s a difference between respect, cherish and abide, and TOLERATE. o We expect to be lauded for believing in belief…

    And then to cast yourself as the victim here…is truly low comedy. I suppose now you’ll be saying that I’m trampling your first amendment rights and other such mindless rubbish. Have you an actual argument that doesn’t portray yourself as the victim while simultaneously demonizing those who disagree as bullies and thugs?

  20. says

    If he was granted a chance to speak, he had the right to say whatever he wanted. The teacher should have been smart enough to offer someone a chance to rebut what he said if anyone wanted to do so.

    The teacher is a douche. He blew a chance for someone who was a peer of this student to explain why they thought his views wrong.

    In addition, this guy has now cost the school system a lot of money in lawyers fees at a time when the system is in dire financial straits.

  21. Contrarian says

    As one fully familiar with legal pleadings, please remember the reporter on the story is only giving the plaintiff’s side. I strongly suspect there is more to this episode which will come out in due course.

    Free speech is too important to limit simply because we find the content offensive. After all, “happy talk” and popular views need no protection. It’s the controversial stuff we need to allow, particularly at a public university. Please also remember that the evangelical right/fundamentalists have attempted to hijack the word “Christian”. I seem to recall that a gun-toting Limbaugh listener shot and killed liberal churchgoers, in Tenn. as I recall.
    Perhaps some of the militant atheists posting here would have more credibility if they also attacked Muslims as visciously. Seems to me Iran kills you on sight if you are a “Mo”. But then having your IP address traced and a personal fatwa declared against you may turn our resident atheists “all wobbly” as they say on the other side of the pond. Yes the prospect of being turned into pulpy bits does concentrate the mind, huh “Tank”?

  22. CJ says

    Jerzeemike: I couldn’t agree more. I find it sadly amusing that many postings, even postings regarding celebrities and entertainment news, start immediately with bitchy and sarcastic comments, then move quickly into personal attacks and insults. Any one can disagree, but maturely disagreeing seems to be a lost art-form.

  23. TANK says

    Militant atheists? Listen, you sad little man, you haven’t the first clue as to which religions I do, in fact, criticize. I am far better versed in the atrocities attributed to islamofascist regimes against lgbt people AND women than you could fathom, and cut them no slack.

  24. TANK says

    I don’t feel the need to qualify my critiques of one specific religion relevant to criticism in this topic and those lending support to that religion by including islam; nor, when I do, in fact, criticize islam, do I need to qualify it by bringing up christianity. SO instead of trying to point out so-called ommissions that literally don’t exist, why don’t you stick to what’s been written.

  25. says

    When you are doing a debate speech it must be presented in a professional manner and not spouting personal religious beliefs if you are going to get a good grade.

    My guess is this kid was stopped with his speech because his sources were from the Bible, which is NOT factual reference material. Also, there are no facts that support denying same-sex couples from getting married, there is only speculation and fear.

  26. Mr. E says

    Tank, don’t you just love it when you call people out directly on their shit, they become the victim and you the ‘militant?’

    As someone mentioned before, Mr. Lopez is described in the law suit as a “Christian who considers it a religious duty to share his beliefs, particularly with other students.” This guy was probably proselytizing. Definitely NOT ok in the class room.

    JERZEEMIKE, that is what you were doing. And that is what is arrogant.

  27. AriannaHuffingPuff says

    This case illustrates how badly we Americans need to get over our foolish notion that everyone should be allowed to have their own opinions about things. We should start following Canada’s practice of having a Human Rights Commission that establishes the acceptable opinions on major public issues. In Canada, anyone having an improper opinion can be found guilty of a hate crime. The professor in this case should be regarded as a hero for not allowing hate speech in his class. Such speech should be regarded as mental pollution and outlawed just as smoking is outlawed in the classroom. The U.S. Supreme Court should reinterpret the constitutional right of “free speech” to mean “speech that makes us more free,” meaning free from racism, social injustice, poverty, and right-wing tyranny. Only speech that promotes these goals should be constitutionally protected. Hopefully, Obama’s forthcoming appointments to the Supreme Court will see this come to pass in the near future.

  28. Mr. E says

    People who dream of Obamas wonderful new Supreme Court need to wake up. In the next 8 years there are only two justices likely to retire, John Paul Stevens, 88. And Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 75, but they are both ‘liberal’ justices so not much of a change there, really. Kennedy and Scalia, both Reagan appointees, are only 72. Barring some catastrophic death or illness they’re not going anywhere. Obama will not have much of an impact on the supreme court.

  29. Jaroslaw says

    I would like to share a couple thoughts distilled from other websites: free speech is not necessarily applicable to the classroom in all situations.

    And “sharing your faith” in an overwhelmingly Christian country can and should be seen as proselytizing. Most everyone knows who Jesus is and why we have off Christmas & Easter from school. If this person wants to share how “God” in general made him a better person, fine, maybe, but not what I can certainly guess what he really “shared.”

    After all this time, we still don’t know what he actually said, and that is what I want to know!

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