BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Rules requiring California community colleges and their faculty to promote diversity, equity and inclusion could violate a Bakersfield College professor’s freedom of speech, according to a U.S. Magistrate Judge.

This decision by Judge Christopher Baker could be the first step toward overturning statewide rules on DEI policies at California Community Colleges.

Monday’s decision stems from a lawsuit filed in June by Daymon Johnson, a Bakersfield College history professor and leader of a conservative campus group called the Renegade Institute for Liberty.

The decision is only a recommendation but addresses new community college campus rules on DEI policies.

Johnson alleges in his suit that college administrators villainized the group for its views, including the firing of former professor Matthew Garrett in April. According to Johnson’s lawyer, Alan Gura, that sparked fear in Johnson.

“Professor Garrett was definitely abused by the school and had his First Amendment rights violated and now other faculty are looking around and looking at each other saying, hey, I could be next. We’re definitely referencing the past bad behavior,” said Gura.

However, according to the documents, California Community Colleges Chancellor Sonya Christian said, “The regulations do not restrict speech but rather express the Board’s own principles regarding diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.”

Yet, in Judge Christopher Baker’s decision, he wrote, “California’s goal of securing equal educational opportunities for nearly two million community college students is unquestionably appropriate and, in many respects, required by law.”

“However, 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.”

Gura said this is a victory.

“It’s a very important step in the right direction to have a federal judge recognize Professor Johnson’s right to teach, to speak, to associate with other people, to express himself, and share his views with others, to teach others and to learn from them,” said Gura.

17 News received a statement from a district spokesperson about the recommendation saying, “Our commitment to our students and community leads to our goals, and we believe this lawsuit is without merit, and as such, Kern CCD will vigorously defend itself.”

Both sides have two weeks to file objections to the judge’s recommendations and the case will go to a district judge next.