Bakersfield, CA — The Institute for Free Speech applauded a federal magistrate judge’s report and recommendation supporting Bakersfield College Professor Daymon Johnson’s free speech lawsuit against California state officials. The judge recommended blocking California Community Colleges Chancellor Sonya Christian and Kern Community College District trustees from enforcing mandatory diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) policies against Johnson when he speaks as a private citizen or through his teaching and scholarship.
“California’s goal of promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in public universities does not give it the authority to invalidate protected expressions of speech,” wrote Magistrate Judge Christopher D. Baker in his Report and Recommendations (R&R), issued today.
The lawsuit asks that administrators be enjoined from investigating or disciplining Professor Johnson for offering his viewpoints and seeks to prevent officials from demanding that faculty advance and teach the state’s official DEIA ideology. The R&R found that it is likely that Professor Johnson has standing to pursue such a suit, is harmed by the policies and practices in question, and that an injunction is an appropriate remedy for the state’s unconstitutional suppression and punishment of Professor Johnson.
“We’re largely pleased with the recommendations, and we appreciate the court’s recognition that California Community Colleges Board of Governors’ mandatory ‘anti-racist’ ideology directly harms our client’s First Amendment rights,” said Alan Gura, lead counsel for Johnson and Vice President for Litigation at the Institute for Free Speech.
“Colleges should foster free debate, not compel indoctrination. The California Community Colleges Board of Governors attempts to strong-arm Professor Johnson and his colleagues across the state into mouthing support for DEIA tenets they may rightfully question. The court’s recommendations correctly stress that such coercion is unconstitutional, even if done in the name of ‘tolerance’ or ‘diversity.’
“Robust free speech, not regulated orthodoxy, produces diversity. Americans deserve open inquiry, not official doctrine,” Gura added.
The R&R found that the aggressive DEIA regulations at issue in the case, and Kern Community College District policies and practices, likely violate the First Amendment by mandating and punishing faculty speech, and by dictating curriculum based on the state’s preferred viewpoints. The court recommended enjoining officials from investigating, disciplining, or firing Johnson for his personal political commentary or classroom instruction criticizing DEIA principles. The court also recommended that the motions to dismiss filed by the district and state defendants be denied and the suit be permitted to proceed on the merits.
The parties in the case have 14 days to object to portions of the report. Those briefs along with the R&R will be submitted to the federal district court judge, who will issue a final decision.
To read more about the case, Johnson v. Watkin, please see the full case page here.
About the Institute for Free Speech
The Institute for Free Speech promotes and defends the political speech rights to freely speak, assemble, publish, and petition the government guaranteed by the First Amendment.