On This Independence Day, Sgt. DeJohn Still Waiting for Fair Treatment from Temple

By July 2, 2009

This Saturday, Americans will celebrate the 233rd anniversary of our declaration of independence. With our nation presently fighting two wars abroad, this year’s Independence Day reminds us again that the brave men and women of our armed forces make unimaginable sacrifices every day in defense of our constitutional freedoms.

It’s fitting, therefore, to inform Torch readers that this Sunday, Sergeant Christian DeJohn of Wyncote, Pennsylvania, will return to active duty for the Army. One day after the Fourth’s fireworks, Christian will be heading out on active duty to the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, right smack in the middle of the Mojave Desert. When he arrives, Christian will be greeted by 100-degree heat, 100 pounds of gear and body armor, and several weeks of very intense desert training.

But Christian is used to enduring hardships for the constitutional freedoms of both himself and others. Indeed, the name “DeJohn” should be familiar to anyone with an interest in free speech on campus. As FIRE supporters no doubt recall, Christian brought a successful suit against Temple University, where he was and is still a graduate student, which resulted in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit striking down Temple’s former sexual harassment policy on First Amendment grounds last fall.

The Third Circuit’s landmark ruling in DeJohn v. Temple University made clear that the free speech rights of students at public universities in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania cannot be abrogated by poorly-written speech codes. As such, it was a resounding victory for free speech on campus, and we have Christian to thank. Without his courage, unconstitutional policies would still be on the books.

Unfortunately, Christian’s “reward” for his victory has been bitter indeed. As I described at length back in March, Christian has been in an uncomfortable academic limbo following the Third Circuit’s decision. I urge you to read the ugly details in full, but here’s the bottom line: Despite obtaining each of the 26 credits necessary for his master’s degree and maintaining a GPA of 3.2, Temple’s History Department has refused to grant Christian an honest review of his master’s thesis.

That’s right: After filing his lawsuit against Temple, Christian’s progress towards his degree has been completely stonewalled by a school with an axe to grind. He’s done everything required but finish his master’s thesis, and he can’t do that because no professor will review it. Obviously, this leaves Christian in an unbelievably frustrating position. And all for standing up for his First Amendment rights. If it sounds unfair, that’s because it is. Temple should be ashamed.

Since my entry about Christian’s dilemma was posted back in March, there has been a small but promising sign that Temple may be coming around. In response to an e-mail query, Provost Lisa Staiano-Coico’s office informed Christian last week that they are reviewing his situation, and that they plan on being in touch in the next several weeks.

While this small note is far from a guarantee, there’s no choice but to hope that Temple decides to proceed in good faith. It goes without saying that Temple should do the right thing and establish a clear path for Christian to complete his degree, free from lingering faculty animus and petty persecution. Christian deserves to be treated fairly, like any other student. To single Christian out and prevent him from obtaining his degree because of his willingness to go to court on behalf of the First Amendment is just plain wrong.

So here’s hoping that Christian receives good news from the Provost’s office while he’s in California, sweating it out under the desert sun.  

Until then, he’s still waiting. And so are we.

Schools: Temple University