Attorney: College Student Has Right to Give Speech on Christian Faith

( [email protected] ) Feb 18, 2009 01:29 PM EST

An attorney representing a Christian student in Los Angeles argued on "The O'Reilly Factor" that the student was within his rights of free speech when he gave an informative speech on his Christian faith in class.

The Alliance Defense Fund filed suit last week on behalf of Jonathan Lopez, a student at Los Angeles City College, who alleges that his professor harassed him and refused to issue him a grade after he delivered an informative speech on God and marriage in a public speaking class.

On Monday night's program, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly asked David French, an Alliance Defense Fund attorney handling the case, how he would respond if the school argued that Jonathan Lopez was proselytizing in a public school classroom and throwing his Christian beliefs out into a forum that was inappropriate.

"It's a very easy answer," responded French. "It was an informational speech. He was informing the class about fundamental tenets of the Christian faith."

As part of illustrating his speech, Lopez simply read "basic passages in the Bible" that explain how to become a Christian," according to French.

The two Bible verses quoted by Lopez were Romans 10:9 – "Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" – and Matthew 22:37-38 – "And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.'"

"The school would never have said anything here if it was a vegetarian quoting tracts from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)," the lawyer contended.

"The point is that a Christian student has the same rights to speak as everyone else."

French also clarified on the Fox show that the speech was not on gay marriage, as reported by some media outlets.

"The speech wasn't even on same-sex marriage as a primary topic. One aspect was 'what was marriage,'" he explained. "He read from a dictionary definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman."

Lopez never got a chance to finish his speech. The professor, John Matteson, cut him off mid-way through his presentation and called him a "fascist bas***d".

On the evaluation paper for his speech, the professor wrote several comments including, "Ask God what your grade is" and "Proselytizing is inappropriate in public school."

After Lopez reported the situation to the school's dean of academic affairs at LACC, according to ADF case records, Matteson threatened Lopez with expulsion.

"This school, like most colleges in the country, has a speech code, that prohibits any speech that are offensive or causes a negative impact," said French on "The O'Reilly Factor".

"It's really outrageous that any student has to face this," he added. "We're going to attack the speech code so that all students at the university are free as a result of this lawsuit."

Lopez is asking for a jury trial against the Los Angeles Community College District, which operates nine campuses including LACC; its board of trustees; Matteson; and various administrators.

The suit seeks an injunction against LACC from restricting student speech in the classroom when students are given open-ended assignments, a declaration that states the school violated Lopez's rights to free speech and due process of law, and compensatory damages of $5,000.

"Colleges are supposed to be safe for free speech and the discussion of many ideas," said Lopez, according to ADF. "What has happened to me is an assault on my constitutional rights. A victory in this case will guarantee that every student who attends the school now and in the future is allowed to freely express their beliefs, religious or otherwise, without fear."