FREE SPEECH — A federal district court ruled last week that the
Los Angeles Community College District's (LACCD) sexual harassment policy, which
also governs campus speech, was overly broad in blocking students' First
Amendment rights, reports Michael Edwards for the Student Press Law Center.
The court upheld an injunction to prohibit the enforcement of the policy,
paving the way for it to be debated in court to determine whether it goes too
far in prohibiting students from expressing themselves.
The LACCD policy, described by the prosecutor as "having a chilling
effect on speech,"became a topic of debate after a student at Los Angeles
Community College, Jonathan Lopez, was prohibited from finishing a speaking
assignment in his public speaking class. According to court documents, he was
speaking on his religious views when his professor, John Matteson, cut him off
and refused to allow him to finish his remarks.
"Matteson was operating pursuant to the college district's
speech code, which prohibited students from engaging in offensive speech,"
David Hacker, Lopez's attorney, said. "It told students to
self-censor their speech if they thought it might offend somebody, which is
really chilling to First Amendment rights of students on campus."
The policy in question prohibits speech on campus that could create an
"intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment."
Hacker said the ruling of the case could have implications for speech codes
all across California. The LACC based their policy on legislation enacted by the
state legislature, which provided suggested language for campus speech codes.
The legislation, however, did not make it mandatory to adopt that
Lopez was censored on the grounds that his speech violated the
school's dated speech code, which had been updated in 2007, but which was
still posted online. Although the code was updated, even the new version has
some language which Lopez's lawyer said is troubling.
"Mr. Lopez was concerned. After what happened to him, he wanted to
ensure that he would be able to speak freely and express his religious opinions
on campus,"Hacker said. "What matters is that the policy exists and
that students have to comply with it or they could be subject to
In addition to cutting Lopez off, Matteson called Lopez a "fascist
bastard,"and wrote on his grading sheet for the speaking assignment that
Lopez should "ask God what your grade is."