The Federal Court of Appeals has thrown out a case concerning Los Angeles City College and Christian student Jonathan Lopez regarding an alleged violation of his free speech rights when he expressed his approval of California’s vote to ban gay marriages back in 2009. Details are conflicting about just how closely Lopez was following the assignment and what he said. The LA Times and the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) says it was an “open ended” assigment. The court documents indicate that Lopez was supposed to be an informative speech. Lopez apparently read from the dictionary definition of marriage and at least two Bible verses. Lopez’s rights were violated when he was interrupted and the professor called him a “fascist” (among other things I can’t print). ADF says that after the professor instructed those who were offended that they could leave, and no one did, the class was dismissed, threats of expulsion were made, and Professor Matteson wrote on Lopez’s evaluation the now infamous “Ask God what your grade is.”
It may shock you that I actually agree with the Court of Appeals. They made the right decision by denying Lopez his cause. I am not a lawyer ( I don’t even play one on TV) but it seems to me that ADF made a mistake by pressing this case in the first place, using Lopez’s experience as the springboard for attacking LA City College’s obviously idiotic sexual harrasment code.
Lopez sought the help of ADF not to protect him from expulsion (after investigation LA City College gave him an A and disciplined the professor) but because the sexual-harrasment policy at City College was draconian and would further hamper his speech rights. The Alliance Defense Fund sought to overturn City College’s harrasment policy.
The Court of Appeals however, said that Lopez had no standing to bring suit because he was never charged under that policy and suffered no harm from the policy itself. No doubt the ADF is justified in challenging LA City College’s sexual harrasment policy with its vague nostrums of “hostile or offensive” environment. Its just that Lopez’s incident wasn’t a violation of that policy.
So much for the legal facts. It is true that this Christitan was verbally harrassed by the professor. It is true that his academic freedom was violated by the professor’s refusal to give him a grade. But neither his speech rights nor his religious rights were violated. What’s more important, to my mind, is the perception by both the professor and some of the students that the mere expression of a contrary view is hateful and deserving of the moniker “fascist” shouted at the student in public.
In fact, according to ADF, the professor himself had engaged in a little free expression when he told the class weeks before Lopez’s speech that “If you voted for Proposition 8, you are a fascist %^%$$” (words I again can’t print.) Several students expressed similar opinions. One student went so far as to say, “this student [Lopez] should have to pay some price for preaching hate in the classroom.”
Years ago Nat Hentoff of the ACLU wrote a book entiled Free Speech for Me but not for Thee. Hentoff says that the greatest temptation for the right and left to censor each other. In fact, Hentoff argues it is often those who profess a love for free speech that abandon it when the subject matter in question is something they strongly dislike.
This is the far more interesting and relevant point to us as salt and light in the world. I have looked at every document in this case, and no where that I can find, did Lopez express hate toward gay people, gay marriage, or puppies for that matter. He was apparently giving an informative speech about his understanding of God and morality. So where’s the hate? The only thing I can find is that he defended the ban on gay marriage and quoted the Bible. There is a definite shift going on here. What exactly makes that hateful?
In a related story (I’ve always wanted to say that . . .) Phillip Pullman has written a new book called The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ which tells the story of two brothers, one named Jesus and the other Christ. Jesus is a good man and Christ apparently manipulates his brother in order to found the religion of Christianity in order to seize power. Hateful? Definitely. And yet not Christian organization that I know of has called for his censorship. In an aside, one wonders if Pullman will carry his satire on organized religion to Fundamentalist Islam. Perhaps he can ask Salman Rushdie how that turns out. He might then just stick with Christians. We are more polite in our dissent. As long as we stay close to Christ, we always will be.