Court Nixes Suit Over Religious College Speech

     (CN) – A college student who was called a “fascist bastard” by a professor who didn’t agree with his speech about God and homosexuality can’t succeed on his claim that the school’s sexual harassment policy violated his right to free speech, the 9th Circuit ruled.

     In a Speech 101 class at Los Angeles City College, Jonathan Lopez gave a speech on God that some students later complained was “hateful propaganda” that should not be allowed in a public classroom. Lopez’s speech was cut short by Professor John Matteson, who called Lopez a “fascist bastard” and told the rest of the class that anyone who was offended by the speech could leave the room.
     In lieu of giving Lopez a grade, Matteson wrote on Lopez’s speech evaluation form, “ask God what your grade is” and “proselytizing is inappropriate in public school.”
     After meeting with the dean of academic affairs and receiving an “A” from Matteson on a second assignment where Lopez chose to discuss the right to free speech, Lopez filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the school’s sexual harassment policy violated the First Amendment because it was unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.
     Lopez said he could be punished under the sexual harassment policy because of his views on homosexuality and marriage.
     The district court agreed that the policy was overbroad and vague and enjoined the school from enforcing it.
     On appeal, a three-judge panel for the 9th Circuit reversed, finding that Lopez failed to show actual injury because his argument was based on an anticipated unfair punishment.
     Although the incident between Lopez and Matteson raised serious concerns, it “does not help Lopez carry his burden of clearly showing he suffered an injury in fact from the sexual harassment policy,” Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote for the Pasadena-based panel.
     “Despite the serious concerns raised by policies that regulate speech on college campuses, we remain bound by the strictures of our jurisdiction, and must decline to hear cases where there is no genuine case or controversy,” the panel ruled.

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