California Professor Angrily Mocks Student’s Faith in Front of Class

Inside the Issues with Alan Sears

Alan Sears, Esquire

ADF President, CEO, & General Counsel

February 24, 2009

Just before Thanksgiving last year, Los Angeles City College speech professor John Matteson gave his students what's known as an "open-ended' assignment:  they could give a talk to the class on a subject of their choosing.

Jonathan Lopez chose to speak on how knowing God has changed his life.  His speech included the dictionary definition of marriage and a couple of Bible verses (Romans 10:9, Matthew 22:37-38) affirming God's grace and character.

Before he could finish his presentation, Professor Matteson interrupted to call Jonathan a "fascist bastard” in front of the class and to tell the students they could leave early if they didn't want to listen to what Jonathan had to say.  No one left.  So, Matteson ended the class.

When Jonathan approached him for his written evaluation of the speech, Matteson refused to grade it.  "Ask God what your grade is,” he scrawled across the form.

A week later, Matteson saw Jonathan in conversation with the college's dean of academic affairs.  He later told Jonathan that he'd do everything he could to get the young man expelled from school.

Last week, attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom filed a lawsuit on Jonathan Lopez's behalf against officials of the Los Angeles Community College District, including Professor Matteson, citing the professor's clear violation of the student's First Amendment protections.

"When students are given such open-ended assignments in a public speaking class, the First Amendment protects their ability to express their views," said ADF Senior Counsel David French. "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.

"Moreover, the district has a speech code that has created a culture of censorship on campus.  America's public universities and colleges are supposed to be a 'marketplace of ideas,' not a hotbed of intolerance." (Shortly after the November election, Matteson told his entire class, "If you voted yes on Proposition 8, you are a fascist bastard." I apologize for the verbatim reports, but you'll note Matteson's epithets are not distinguished by their variety.)

"Christian students shouldn't be penalized or discriminated against for speaking about their beliefs," said French.  "Public institutions of higher learning cannot selectively censor Christian speech.  This student was speaking well within the confines of his professor's assignment when he was censored and ultimately threatened with expulsion."

ADF Attorney David Hacker and allied attorneys Sam Kim and attorney Michael Parker are also representing Jonathan.  Information on the case, including the complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, is available at

Please pray for Jonathan Lopez as he faces a rush of attention – much of it negative – from other students and professors on campus for standing up for his rights, and pray for all those across the country who, like Jonathan, are trying to live thoughtfully for Christ on their college or university campus, speaking the truth in love.