In the fall of 2008, Jonathan Lopez attended Los Angeles City College (LACC) and was enrolled in a speech class. During this same time California voters passed Proposition 8 which amended the state’s constitution to define marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.
The day after the vote, Jonathan’s speech professor came to class with a message. After slamming his papers on his desk, he erupted and said to his class that anyone who voted for Proposition 8 was a “fascist bastard.” Then he dismissed the class.
Jonathan became inspired to take up his professor’s outburst in his next assignment, a six to eight minute informative speech about the topic of his choice. Jonathan chose a topic that was very important to him: his Christian faith. He began by sharing his faith story and continued by addressing important elements of Christian belief, including reading the definition of marriage from the dictionary.
Once again Jonathan’s professor erupted and, after a short exchange with Jonathan, declared that the speech was over and dismissed the class. Jonathan made his way to the back of the room where his professor handed him his evaluation form on which he had written, “Ask God what your grade is.”
In the days that followed, Jonathan was on the receiving end of many offensive comments from his professor, several of which were intended to purposely embarrass Jonathan in front of other students. Keeping his focus on completing the class but knowing that something had to be done, Jonathan met with the college dean about the situation. Unfortunately, Jonathan’s professor witnessed the meeting taking place. Afterward, he got in his face and told him that he was going to make it his mission to expel him from the school. Finally reaching his limit, Jonathan pursued legal action.
With the help of a friend, Jonathan connected with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker, who is also the director of the ministry’s University Project created to defend the legal rights and religious freedom of Christian students.
ADF filed a federal lawsuit against the college, its administration, and the professor, asking the court to put a stop to the instructor’s behavior. Finally after years of litigation, the court entered judgment in favor of Jonathan and awarded him damages for the violation of rights.
Jonathan said, “I was pleased with that even though it was never about money. It was more about defending my faith. I was really glad that there was acknowledgement that the instructor did do wrong, that he did violate my rights … and that other believers can speak up now and feel comfortable about speaking up.”
Jonathan finished his semester at LACC and received an “A” in his speech class. His story, along with several other ADF cases, helped to inspire the hit-movie God’s Not Dead.
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Jonathan Lopez Stair Case
Lopez v. Candaele
What's at stake
- The freedom of students to share their beliefs in class
- The right of students to be free of campus speech codes
Jonathan Lopez was a Christian student in a public speaking class at Los Angeles City College. While delivering one of his assigned speeches for the class, he mentioned that he believes marriage is between one man and one woman. That infuriated his professor, who refused to allow Jonathan to complete the speech and told him to “ask God what your grade is.”
In November 2008, shortly after Californians voted in favor of Prop 8, the state constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between one man and one woman, Jonathan Lopez’s public speaking professor assigned the class to give an informative speech on any topic. Jonathan chose to talk about his faith. And when he gave his speech, he mentioned his beliefs on marriage—that God intended it to be between one man and one woman.
Jonathan’s professor immediately stopped him, called him a “fascist bastard,” and refused to allow him to finish the speech. Then when Jonathan returned to his seat, he saw that the professor had written “ask God what your grade is” on the evaluation form. Jonathan knew this was wrong and complained to the college dean. But his professor saw him talking to the dean and later threatened to expel Jonathan if he complained again.
Jonathan turned to Alliance Defending Freedom for help.
Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on Jonathan’s behalf and won a judgment against the professor that declared Jonathan’s rights had been violated.
Alliance Defending Freedom continues to fight for the rights of many students like Jonathan Lopez so that they can participate equally in the marketplace of ideas.
Our role in this case
Alliance Defending Freedom represented Jonathan Lopez in a lawsuit against Los Angeles City College, and defended his right to speak freely, even if his professor disagreed with his beliefs.