Temple denies degree to decorated vet

April 10, 2008

Sgt. Christian DeJohn and his attorneys squared off against Temple University before the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday morning in Center City.

Christian DeJohn v. Temple University questions free speech rights and whether a student’s political opinions are a legitimate basis for denying him a degree from a state university.

Before a three-judge panel, Sgt. DeJohn’s attorney, Nathan Kellum, tried to convince the judges that Temple’s “speech codes” were unconstitutional.

Sgt. DeJohn, a graduate student at Temple and a sergeant in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, was repeatedly denied by school officials in his pursuit of a master’s degree in military and American history after he was called to active duty to serve in Bosnia after 9/11.

While active in Bosnia, Sgt. DeJohn objected to invitations to weekly anti-war lectures by Temple professors as part of a series on “Dissent in America.”

Although Sgt. DeJohn had applied for military leave from Temple, he returned to discover that he was no longer enrolled in the university, had not graduated, and his thesis was not on record.

In March 2007, Sgt. DeJohn filed a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging the university’s speech codes.

A federal judge issued a permanent injunction against the school’s speech code, while also rejecting Temple’s efforts to dismiss Sgt. DeJohn’s claims that the school has withheld his degree because of his political and ideological perspective.

Sgt. DeJohn is seeking compensatory and punitive damages. He has garnered support of organizations including the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the Individual Rights Foundation, Feminists for Free Expression, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

A final decision is expected April 26.

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Schools: Temple University Cases: Temple University: Speech Code Litigation