Today, FIRE filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to uphold a July 2009 decision by a federal district court finding the Los Angeles Community College District’s (LACCD’s) speech code unconstitutional. LACCD’s code prohibits, among other things, "generalized sexist statements" and "actions and behavior that convey insulting, intrusive or degrading attitudes/comments about women or men."
FIRE’s press release has more details about the lawsuit against LACCD, which stems from the notorious incident in which a student was told by his professor to "Ask God what your grade is." Student Jonathan Lopez’s ordeal received national attention.
So far, LACCD has racked up nothing but losses. In July 2009, United States District Judge George H. King granted Lopez a preliminary injunction barring LACCD from enforcing its sexual harassment policy, declaring that the policy violated the First Amendment rights of Lopez and his fellow students by "prohibit[ing] a substantial amount of protected free speech." In September 2009, Judge King denied LACCD’s motion for reconsideration of his earlier ruling. Judge King observed that LACCD "ha[d] shown no valid reason" to overturn the injunction, and he characterized LACCD’s arguments as "scattershot and disjointed." LACCD then appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
FIRE’s brief, filed by FIRE Legal Network attorney Timothy Smith, points out that LACCD’s policy contradicts both decades of legal precedent and the guidance of the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which is responsible for enforcing harassment laws on campus. FIRE’s brief argues that if LACCD’s policy were permitted to stand, it would gravely endanger the free speech rights of LACCD students and exacerbate the free speech crisis on America’s college campuses. As our Will Creeley says in the press release, "LACCD has proven not only that it does not care about its students’ First Amendment rights, but that it doesn’t care about wasting taxpayer dollars to argue against the Bill of Rights in court." We’re confident that the courts will continue to make the right calls in this appalling and ongoing case.