Friday, September 17, 2010

Lopez v. Candaele (9th Cir. - Sept. 17, 2010)

It's a rare First Amendment case in which the plaintiff has been actually injured -- as I believe the plaintiff was here -- and yet does not have standing. Here's one of them.

I definitely agree with Judge Ikuta on one thing. This standing issue is close. However, perhaps like Judge Ikuta, while I surely believe that what happened with Jonathan Lopez was due to the content of his speech, it didn't even occur to me (except for the resulting lawsuit) that this would have anything to do with an allegedly overbroad sexual harassment policy. My sense was, and remains, that Professor Matteson -- who was teaching Speech 101 at L.A. City College -- just did not like the content of Lopez's speech, and didn't think it was appropriate to talk about God and the like in class. Sure, subsequently, Matteson made (totally vague) references to the school's Student Code of Conduct. But I didn't take what Lopez did to be even alleged harassment, and so I understand where Judge Ikuta comes out on this one.

Still, it's close.

What's not close, however, is the propriety of what Professor Matteson did. Interrupting an assigned speech in class, calling the student a "fascist bastard," refusing to allow the student to finish his speech, telling the other students that they can leave if they're offended, and then -- when no one leaves -- dismissing the class. Wow. All that Lopez was doing to talking about his faith and the ways in which he believed God had acted in his life and in the lives of others. The assignment was to make an informative speech on the topic of the student's choosing. Seems to me like this qualifies. Regardless, even if it didn't, mellow out. Let the guy talk.

Plus, even if you're upset in the heat of the moment, at least upon reflection, I'd hope that when the student asked the professor what grade he got on his speech, the professor would not refuse to give a grade and instead write on the evaluation form: "Ask God what your grade is."

Stay classy, Los Angeles.