Jonathan Lopez is a Christian. He is also a student at Los Angeles City College (LACC) in Los Angeles, California. During the fall 2008 semester, Lopez took an Introduction to Public Speaking (Speech 101) class. It was taught by one John Matteson.
In Speech 101 there are several different speaking assignments, including a delivery speech, a culture speech, an informative speech, and a persuasive speech. For the informative speech, Professor Matteson allowed students to cover any topic and to speak between six and eight minutes with or without visual aids.
In November, Jonathan Lopez attempted to give his informative speech on God and the ways he has seen God act miraculously in his life and in the lives of others. In the middle of that speech, Lopez spoke of God and morality and read the dictionary definition of marriage. He also read two verses from the Bible.
But before Lopez was finished with his speech, Professor Matteson interrupted him. After calling Lopez a “fascist bastard” in front of other students, Matteson invited students to leave the class if they had been offended. When no one left, the professor dismissed the entire class.
As Jonathan Lopez prepared to leave class that day he found an evaluation form left in his backpack by Professor Matteson. There was no grade for the informative speech. Instead there was this instruction: “Ask God what your grade is.” It was followed by a statement saying that “prostyelsyszing [sic] is inappropriate in a public school.”
Professor Matteson’s evaluation did not mention that it is “inappropriate” to censor the speech of those belonging to a protected class. Nor did it mention that it is “inappropriate” to do these things while acting under the color of state law.
This was not the first time Professor Matteson’s animus towards Christians had been on display. Several weeks before the aforementioned incident, he told students the following: “If you voted yes on Proposition 8, you are a fascist bastard.”
Naturally, the combined effect of Professor Matteson’s remarks about Proposition 8 and his remarks about Lopez’ informative speech have created a chilling effect on First Amendment expression. It is likely that students other than Lopez are refraining from expressing political, religious, and social beliefs not in line with Professor Matteson’s.
This chilling effect led Jonathan Lopez to meet, in late November, with Allison Jones, Dean of Academic Affairs at LACC. But the problems continued.
On December 1, Lopez and another student arrived late to Speech 101. To prevent interrupting speakers, Professor Matteson required students to wait outside until they heard applause signifying the end of a speech. Mr. Lopez entered late because he did not hear anyone speaking. Because someone was, in fact, speaking, Lopez apologized to the class.
Professor Matteson ignored this apology and decided to confront Lopez in front of his peers with the following: “Not very Christian of you.” The snide remark caused Lopez heightened concern over his eventual outcome in the class. Consequently, Mr. Lopez decided to give Dean Jones a written note describing the December 1 incident.
Unfortunately, Professor Matteson saw Lopez give the note to Dean Jones. The Professor then confronted Lopez. During the confrontation, the Professor said he would make sure that Lopez was expelled from school.
Mr. Lopez then decided to seek legal counsel and to request action to correct Professor Matteson’s conduct. Both Dean Jones and LACC President Jamillah Moore were sent letters through Mr. Lopez’ attorneys. They refused to take any action.
Instead of acting, Dean Jones wrote that she received two complaints from students in Speech 101. One student allegedly said “I do not believe that our classroom is the proper platform for him to spout his hateful propaganda.” Another student allegedly said “I don’t know what kind of actions can be taken in this situation, but I expect that this student should have to pay some price for preaching hate in the classroom.”
Following the inaction of Dean Jones, Mr. Lopez sent, via counsel, a second letter demanding action in his case. Dean Jones responded by saying that the situation had been appropriately addressed. She then brazenly stated that any service of process or tort claims could be served on the District’s General Counsel.
As of this writing, Mr. Lopez still has not received a grade for his informative speech about God and miracles. Only God knows what his grade is.