Sunday, August 21, 2011

A qualified, partial victory in Capistrano

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has just published their decision that Capistrano Unified School District’s high school teacher, James Corbett, was not vulnerable to the claim that his classroom statements violated the First Amendment rights of a former student, Chad Farnan. The suit was filed by his parents in 2009 while Chad was still a minor. The case has attracted considerable press attention, locally and nationally. It is also the topic of a number of online discussions, for example, "Lost Opportunity in San Juan Capistrano." In the original, and amended plaintiff complaints (all court documents are available on-line through the National Center for Science Education), there were a dozen or so statements Farnan claimed to have secretly recorded during Corbett’s classes. During the trial, several were found to have been so severely edited, and redacted by Farnan that their meaning had been totally altered.

Following the trial Judge’s decision, only a single statement made by Corbett, as alleged by Farnan, was found to be questionable.

Corbett,
“At that point, I stood up and said, “I’ll tell you what. I will sign a statement giving you — you do not have to defend me, but I will not leave John [Peloza] alone to propagandize kids with this religious, superstitious nonsense... John wanted to talk about creation as a science and all that stuff, but you get involved in that argument, you just lose because it’s just nonsense. . . .”

The original law suit made a common error of equating creationism with Christianity. This is nonsense. Unfortunately, Corbett's legal team never challenged this error, and instead argued he had a First Amendment right that allowed him to be critical of creationism/religion. If Crobett, acting as a public employee, were to say as part of his public job that "Christianity is rubbish," or "Islam is rubbish," he would have been in violation of the Constitution, and his contract. To state that young earth creationism is rubbish is merely stating a fact that in no way attacks Christianity, or Islam, or any other religious sect. Where is the Church of Creationism? What are their sacraments? How do I know who is a member of the Church of Creationism?

There are Jewish, and Muslim creationists who maintain the same absurd, and false claims opposing the sciences of biology, geology, and astronomy directly, and even chemistry and physics indirectly, as do the garden variety Christian creationists. There are Neo-pagan, and Animist creationists. There are Native American creationists who insist that all sciences, especially archaeology, were invented merely to suppress Native Americans. There are Hindu creationists who insist that the Earth is infinitely old. So, Corbett's remarks regarding CTREATIONISM cannot be said to be "anti-Christian," and in fact there are thousands of Christian Clergy who reject creationist foolishness as well. Google "Clergy Letter Project."

Non-the-less, Corbett's remarks re: creationism were not directed against any religion in particular. In fact, Intelligent Design creationists try to pretend (unsuccessfully) they are free of any religious motivations.

To say that fear of black cats, or Friday the Thirteenth is superstitious nonsense is merely the truth. So to is saying that creationism is superstitious nonsense merely the truth. Creationism is not a religion. Creationism is not protected any more than fear of black cats, or Friday the Thirteenth, or fear of vaccinations.

At the same time, there is no creationist dogma that is not ultimately reducible to a religious doctrine held by the proponent of creationism. For this reason, creationism is not eligible to be taught in government sponsored, public schools. Creationism is used as a tool by the proponent to advance their personal religion through the coercive power of the State.

3 comments:

James Corbett said...

Who the hell writes your headlines?  Pat Robertson?  

The
Court's opinion was more than gratifying, it was a victory for free
thought and academic freedom.   The 9th Circuit
affirmed that in America, no religion has a right to demand that teachers defer
to their beliefs.  If that were true, teaching would become a
Constitutional minefield.  The Court held that “teachers must be given leeway
to challenge students to foster critical thinking skills and develop their
analytical abilities.” Chad’s lawyers argued that questioning “Creation Science”
violated the First Amendment, but American law gives no special place to any
religion.  One person’s religion is another person’s
superstition.   To Jews, Muslims, Hindus and dozens of other religions,
the New Testament is “Christian Superstition,” just as their views are
superstition to Christians.  When a teacher refers to a religious belief as
“superstition,”  he  shows respect for all by favoring none.  My
classes have Jews, Hindus, Bahai, Muslims, Buddhists, and others.  Chad
would demand a special place for his views, but in America, all beliefs should
be treated equally by government.

The one
thing that bothers me most about this case is that neither Chad nor his parents
nor the so-called Advocates for Faith and Freedom, ever made an effort to talk
with me before filing the suit.  In my view, they were all more interested
in gaining publicity for themselves, and donations for the Advocates, than in
protecting Chad’s rights.  They cost our schools hundreds of thousands of dollars when the
whole thing could have been settled with a phone call that they never
made. 

 

Finally,
here are two stanzas from Robert Service Poem (Reagan's favorite poet) that
have been with me for 50 years--since my father read it to me when I was a
teenager.  At the time, my father was under attack from the blacklisters for opposing a right wing takeover of the Anaheim school board.

 

"Carry
On"

There are some who drift out in
the desert of doubt

And some who in brutishness
wallow;

There are others, I know, who
in piety go

Because of a Heaven to follow.

But to labor with zest, and to
give of your best,

For the sweetness and joy of
the giving;

To help folks along with a hand
and a song;

Why, there’s the real sunshine
of living.

 

     
Carry on! Carry on!

   Fight the good
fight and true;

Believe in your mission, greet
life with a cheer;

There’s big work to do, and
that’s why you are here.

     
Carry on! Carry on!

   Let the world be
the better for you;

Jim Corbett

Gary S. Hurd said...

Dr. Corbett,

You seem to imagine you are some sort of hero in this situation. You are not.

Your attorneys come closest of anyone involved.

You wrote above, “The Court's opinion was more than gratifying, it was a victory for free thought and academic freedom. The 9th Circuit affirmed that in America, no religion has a right to demand that teachers defer to their beliefs.”

This was never in question, as the Court observed. That was not at issue. The question was had a government agent violated the constitutional rights of a citizen by opposing their free practice of religion.

Appeal Court Decision
http://ncse.com/webfm_send/1656

From the 9th Court’s introduction;
“In this case, a former public high school student alleges that his history teacher violated his rights under the Establishment Clause by making comments during class that were hostile to religion in general, and to Christianity in particular. Mindful that there has never been any prior reported case holding that a teacher violated the Constitution under comparable circumstances, we affirm the district court’s conclusion that the teacher is entitled to qualified immunity. Because it is readily apparent that the law was not clearly established at the time of the events in question, and because we may resolve the appeal on that basis alone, we decline to pass upon the constitutionality of the teacher’s challenged statements.”

From the Court’s discussion;
“Because the district court’s judgment must be affirmed on that basis, (Corbett was entitled to qualified immunity, gh) we decline to consider the constitutionality of Corbett’s statements, and we vacate the district court’s decision to the extent it decided the constitutionality of any of Corbett’s statements. See id. at 815-18. (Discussion III, Sect B, 7. [6] page 18)

So, basically you barely got off, and there is still no clear line demarking what might be permissible. Nor has the stronger position that creationism is not a “practiced religion” been explored.

Get over it.

falkowitz said...

I can't argue with your view. It has merit. I wish the court had engaged the real issue in this way:

Chad’s lawyers argued that questioning “Creation Science” violated the First Amendment, but American law gives no special place to any religion. One person’s religion is another person’s superstition. To Jews, Muslims, Hindus and dozens of other religions, the New Testament is “Christian Superstition,” just as their views are superstition to Christians. When a government actor refers to a religious belief as “superstition,” he shows respect for all by favoring none. American classrooms have Jews, Hindus, Bahai, Muslims, Buddhists, and others. Chad would demand a special place for his views, but in America, all beliefs should be treated equally by government.