Federal court: Arguments of L.A. Community College District ‘scattershot and disjointed’

Injunction prohibiting enforcement of policy that violates student free speech rights will stand
Friday, September 18, 2009

LOS ANGELES — A federal court ruled Wednesday that an injunction prohibiting enforcement of a Los Angeles Community College District policy that violates student free speech rights will stand. The court denied the college district’s motion to reconsider the injunction, noting that the court was “amused” at many of the district’s “scattershot and disjointed” arguments. Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom sought and obtained the injunction after filing suit on behalf of a student.

“Christian students shouldn’t be penalized for expressing their beliefs at a public college,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel David Hacker.  “The college has failed to make any convincing arguments that a policy which clearly violates the constitutional rights of students should be allowed to continue. If they truly care about the free speech rights of their students, they should not desire to pursue enforcement of such a bad policy.”

In July, the court issued the injunction order, which halts enforcement of the college district’s speech code while the ADF lawsuit against the district moves forward.

According to the order, the speech code, which is part of the district’s sexual harassment policy, is problematic because it “reaches constitutionally protected speech that is merely offensive to some listeners....” The court stated, “Supreme Court precedents ‘leave no room for the view that, because of the acknowledged need for order, First Amendment protections should apply with less force on college campuses than in the community at large. Quite to the contrary, the vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools.’”

In its denial of the college district’s motion to reconsider, the court determined, “The Motion does not raise any changed law or facts.... Defendants do not get a mulligan simply because they chose to retain new counsel.” The denial repeats the court’s position that the policy is flawed, noting that “the Policy undeniably targets the content of expression” and is “unconstitutionally overbroad by sweeping within its reach a substantial amount of protected speech.”

ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit Lopez v. Candaele with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California after a professor censored and threatened to expel student Jonathan Lopez following a speech he gave about his Christian faith during an open-ended assignment in a public speaking class. The professor interrupted and ended Lopez’s presentation mid-speech, calling him a “fascist bastard” in front of the class. Refusing to grade the assigned speech, the professor wrote on Lopez’s speech evaluation form, “Ask God what your grade is,” and later threatened to expel the student. 
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.