The case of Jonathan Lopez, the Los Angeles Community college student who allegedly was called a “fascist bastard” by his speech professor for delivering a Christian speech, has indeed touched a nerve, as his lawyer, David French of the Alliance Defense Fund said.
Once again the mainstream press got a few things askew. The Los Angeles Times, reporting Lopez’s suit over the issue, said the student was delivering a speech against gay marriage. Other news outlets, from UPI to MSNBC, picking the story up from the Times, said so too. But there’s no evidence on the table for that. Lopez cited Romans 10:9 and Matthew 22:37-38, which don’t deal with marriage at all. Maybe Lopez did refer to gay marriage somewhere in his speech. We don’t really know what set the professor off. Legal papers filed by Lopez say the speech was about God and miracles.
The Times reporter also thought the Lopez lawsuit raised a difficult issue “testing the balance between First Amendment rights and school codes on offensive speech.” Some reporters, conditioned by campus orthodoxy, think constitutional rights and unconstitutional speech codes somehow have equal weight. But “balance” is not an issue here and there is no evidence so far that Lopez did anything wrong. According to his court papers, he was asked to give a speech on any subject of his own choosing and did so, but the teacher didn’t like the topic, called him a “fascist bastard” and refused to give him a mark. Lopez says the teacher said, “Ask God for a grade.” What made Lopez a “fascist bastard”? If voting for a referendum opposing gay marriage does it, then California contains more than seven million “fascist bastards.” If belief in Christianity is the test, then the state is probably home to 20 million or so FBs.
As usual when some aspect of the dominant campus belief system is challenged, the first reaction is to condemn and punish, not to tolerate or discuss. Ordinarily, a quick appeal is made to a broad and vague speech code. Since speech codes are unconstitutional at public colleges, speech-control rules are often embedded in sexual harassment regulations or disguised as a code of behavior. The code of Los Angeles Community College bans “verbal, visual or physical conduct” that “has the purpose or effect of having a negative impact upon the individual’s work or academic performance.” What, exactly, is a “negative impact”? No one really knows, but anyone formally accused of having one, even unintentionally, is in danger of being found guilty. But every so often, word gets out about these Star Chamber proceedings, and if the publicity is high enough and the student threatens to sue, the college has to back down. That seems to be the scenario here. Campus restrictions on free speech are still suffocating, but sometime dissenters win.