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Silenced in Speech Class By: Gregory Gethard
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, February 27, 2009

I attended a small Catholic university in Philadelphia, but aside from a handful of professors who asked students to engage in a brief prayer before class, along with the preponderance of faculty and students who participated in Ash Wednesday, the school’s religious bent played no impact on the education I received.

In most cases, I could never tell the political leanings of my professors. In the rare occasions where I could, the professors made their opinions clear but still enjoyed the discussion from students of opposite viewpoints. It was a great experience for me. I got to take part in debate and to reflect on learned ideas from people of differing opinions. With my right-leaning political beliefs, I never felt like anyone ever held my thoughts against me. And, on the opposite end of the coin, I can’t remember any of my liberal friends ever complaining about censorship. Who knew that a college with a religious tradition could be so open minded?

I wish that were true for every college student. But, as we know, on many campuses across the country freedom of speech only extends to people who have politically correct viewpoints. The most recent example occurred on the campus of the Los Angeles City College. Jonathan Lopez, a student in a public speaking class, gave a speech opposing against gay marriage, an opinion shared by many Christians. It’s also shared by most Californians, as Lopez’ remarks came just weeks after California voted to narrow the definition of marriage to be between a man and a woman.

However, Lopez was not allowed to complete his speech. Professor John Matteson interrupted his remarks, labeling him as a “fascist bastard” in the process. After class, Lopez approached Matteson to ask him about his grade. Matteson responded to Lopez by saying, “Why don’t you ask God what your grade is?” It wasn’t the first time Matteson made such disparaging remarks. Earlier in the semester, before Californian voters determined the fate of Proposition 8, Matteson said that anyone who supported the measure was a “fascist bastard.”

What’s most shocking is that this happened in a public speaking course. Courses such as this should be where students should feel most at home speaking about their viewpoints. It’s absolutely the last place where a professor should interject his opinions on a subject onto the rest of the classroom. But Matteson went beyond expressing his own opinion; he actively abused and punished a student with whom he disagreed. Fascist bastard, indeed.

This incident occurred at a state-run, public college which is part of the Los Angeles Community College District umbrella. The District’s website touts the “diversity” of its student body as one of its strengths, and claims to educate three times as many Latino students and nearly four times as many African-American students as all of the University of California campuses combined.

But diversity means more than just placing the pictures of minority students on a website. It also includes allowing for a free exchange of ideas, which also includes the viewpoints of those who have conservative and/or religious leanings. Too often, those “disagreeable” views are silenced on college campuses. For all its professed admiration of “diversity,” one can only hope that one day Los Angeles City College will embrace the true meaning of the word.

Gregory Gethard is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer.

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