Los Angeles City College Is Sued Over Alleged Bias Against Christian Student

February 13, 2009

The Alliance Defense Fund sued the Los Angeles Community College District on Wednesday, asserting that a student at Los Angeles City College was shouted down and called a “fascist bastard” by his Speech 101 professor while giving a presentation about his Christian faith.

The lawsuit says that a student at the college, Jonathan Lopez, was giving an in-class presentation last November that involved “reading the dictionary definition of marriage and reciting two Bible verses” when he was interrupted by his professor. The professor, John Matteson, insulted the student and later refused to give him a grade, the suit says, instead writing on an evaluation that Mr. Lopez should “ask God what your grade is.”

“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,” David French, a senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, said in a statement. “When students are given open-ended assignments in a public-speaking class, the First Amendment protects their ability to express their views.”

A spokeswoman for the college did not immediately return a request for comment. In a letter to the Alliance Defense Fund written in December, the college’s dean of academic affairs called the incident “extremely serious” but strongly disputed the group’s description of the episode and the college’s response to it.

The dean, Allison Jones, wrote that she had taken Mr. Lopez’s concerns seriously and started a discipline process, but that the student had failed to file necessary written complaints to follow up on his allegations. “Instead, he chose to involve your organization,” she wrote.

Ms. Jones added that Mr. Lopez’s speech had offended many other students in the class. She quoted one student who said the speech was “not of the informative style that our assignment called for, but rather a preachy, persuasive speech that was completely inappropriate and deeply offensive.” —Josh Keller

Update (2/20): The New York Times reported today that another Professor John Matteson — at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice — has been receiving hate e-mail from people who are mistaking him for the Professor John Matteson at Los Angeles City College. The New York Matteson, a professor of English who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Louisa May Alcott, is not related to the Los Angeles Matteson, and the two have never met.