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MAY 9, 2009 5:31PM

Teachers must challenge myths

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Teacher at Capistrano Valley High School. A federal judge ruled recently that Corbett violated the First Amendment's establishment clause by disparaging Creationism.

Over 2,000 years ago Socrates faced a court for refusing to recognize the gods acknowledged by the state, importing strange divinities and corrupting the young. The judges sent Socrates to his death. He accepted the sentence of the court and committed suicide by drinking a cup of hemlock.

The only virtue for Socrates was "knowledge." He reached it by questioning the most deeply held beliefs of his students by which I mean all of Athens and ultimately all of us. What troubled the Athenians about Socrates, however, was not listed in the charges. His crime was that he prompted people to think.

His provocations exposed the Athenians' shallowness of belief and mindless deference to myth. Socrates was judged because he was successful in provoking his students "examine their lives." [his words]Those who guard the myths must try and strike down any who teach young people to think and question, because myths often shrink in the light of reason, draining power from those in authority who benefit from belief.

There are thousands of teachers who agree with Socrates that, "[t]he unexamined life is not worth living." Every teacher who makes a student think takes the risk that he will be attacked by parents and others who see themselves as guardians of cherished political and religious myth. The teachers willing to take that risk should be rewarded, not punished. After the verdict, the Athenian court asked Socrates what his punishment should be. He responded that he should get free meals at the Pyrataneum, a celebration hall for Olympian athletes. Socrates went on to explain that those who passed judgment were not harming him, but rather themselves. He said, by killing him they corrupted their own souls and revealed the weakness of their own belief. A true believer does not fear that a few questions can undo years of parental teaching. Those who would "protect" students from self-examination have little faith and great fear.

Chad Farnan, the boy who sued me, was an average student, who admitted under oath that he did not do the required reading for the class. If Chad's lawyers, the "Advocates for Faith and Freedom," and his parents were actually concerned with protecting the boy, why didn't they simply come to me and ask me to explain my comments? Neither they nor the Farmans ever expressed concerns to me nor to any administrators before they came to school with attorneys and reporters in tow to drop a lawsuit on the desk of Tom Ressler, our principal. Perhaps more importantly, the Farmans were aware long before Chad took my class that I go out of my way to be provocative. Every year in July, I send a letter home to students who have signed up for my class. Chad admitted under oath that he received that letter. The letter says, in part:

"Most days we will spend a few minutes (sometimes more) at the beginning of class discussing current events from either The Orange County Register or the L.A. Times. I may also use material from a variety of news Web sites. Discussion will be quite provocative, and focus on the 'lessons' of history. My goal is to have you go home with something that will provoke discussion with your parents. Students may offer any perspective without concern that anything they say will impact either my attitude toward them or their grades. I encourage a full range of views."

I included my home phone number and e-mail address in that letter and encouraged parents to contact me if they had any concerns. Chad admitted under oath that my lectures prompted many discussions with his parents. I might add, that in 20 years in the CUSD, I have never had a complaint filed against me, save this one.

Every teacher in California (this was a federal case after all) now works with the knowledge that any student, at any time, and in violation of California law, can sneak a tape recorder into a classroom, record the teacher and use an out-of-context five second comment as a bludgeon to threaten, to intimidate and, ultimately, to destroy the teacher's career and good name.

Challenging myths is dangerous, but it is the essence of getting students to think for themselves. The Athenian judges, like some parents today, would have students accept myth without question, because myth is the foundation of their parental, political and/or religious authority. Ms. Farnan objected to my challenging the myth of the Puritans as a pious people who fled religious intolerance to found America. As Ms. Farnan sees them, the Puritans are quaint, pious people with buckles on their hats and shoes as portrayed in the national mythology, but they may also be seen as intolerant, misogynistic and homophobic religious bigots who hanged Mary Dyer, a Quaker girl, for preaching something other than Puritan doctrine and several other women for the crime of "witchcraft."

Questioning may make students and parents uncomfortable, but students have a right to think for themselves. It is not "bullying" to demand that students think.

Ms. Farnan also objected to my challenge of another national myth, that the United States was founded as a "Christian" nation. There is some truth to that notion, but embracing that myth and excluding other views can be used to unfairly gain political advantage. Another view of the founding fathers can be seen in the writings of Thomas Jefferson, the man who authored the Declaration of Independence. He translated the Bible. The last words of the Jeffersonian Bible might shake Ms. Farnan's faith: "There laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed." There was no resurrection for Jefferson, he rejected all the Biblical miracles, as contrary to reason. I doubt with his view would be called "Christian" by Ms. Farnan or anyone else. James Madison, who penned the Constitution, warned, "Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and units it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect." If Jefferson and Madison were alive today, I doubt they could be elected. The guardians of the national myth would rise up and smite them as unbelievers.

We respect the guardians and their myths at our peril because history (and science) changes and improves with knowledge, but the same force damages myth based on belief. That's why the guardians fear the knowledge begat by questioning. For them, "knowledge" is gained in rote memory of approved truth. They chant in the school, temple, church or mosque and fool themselves into thinking they've acquired knowledge.

All those teachers, and there are many of us, who understand the value of questioning sacred myths serve this nation as faithfully as other patriots. What is true will be strengthened. What is false will be destroyed, as it should be. Such teachers should be honored. There is no greater gift teachers can give to students than to teach them to think. Don't sue them for it. Try taking them to the Pyrataneum for dinner, conversation and a cup of coffee, no hemlock.

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Something I would expect to happen in Texas not California. Well, there you have it. Good post!
Dr. Corbett, I read the court decision. They only said you were in violation of the establishment clause for the "Peloza" comment regarding creationism being "superstitious nonsense". Every other comment which Mr. Farnan objected was deemed permissible by the court. While I completely agree with you, the court made it obvious the issue was not your critique of creationism, but the way you stated it. By disparaging the religious belief as opposed to the "logic" behind it the case had merit (albeit not much).
You can be my history teacher any day James
I agree that questioning beliefs is important, and that as a teacher you ought to help children learn that. But, at least from what I've read in this letter, this teacher seems like someone who only questions beliefs that differ from his own.
He is obviously an intelligent man, and pitting his deep knowledge of the topic against that of a high schooler is unfair. So the result in class is not an open discussion with all preconceived notions being questioned. Rather, it's open field-day on religion.
Instead, the teacher ought to play devil's advocate to both sides, teaching the students classic Christian (and Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Tao...) responses to the questions he's posed about their role in society.
I wonder if he taught his class about John Adam's arguments for creating a state church? Or about the many public intellectuals who believe(d) that religion is very important to preserving our national identity and unity? These thinkers deserve just as much time and consideration as Jefferson (who is also a brilliant and important thinker). If you wish to have open debate, make it open! Provide both sides, or you're merely teaching the myth and orthodoxy of tomorrow.
Dr. Corbett. Unless any of my countrymen disagree I will now pledge the whole of Scandinavia in your support. The whole post and most importantly the point of it made me realize the importance of people such as yourself. If you for some reason would need 'political' asylum, contact me as it would not take more than five minutes to arrange.

I hope all goes well and works out in your favor, good luck.

Sincerely
Sweden
Well done Mr. Corbett. I only hope my children will have teachers as thought provoking as yourself. If we ever meet, dinner is on the house. Keep up the good work.
All those teachers, and there are many of us, who understand the value of questioning sacred myths serve this nation as faithfully as other patriots. What is true will be strengthened. What is false will be destroyed, as it should be. Such teachers should be honored.

amen!
You were utterly insensitive the lack of balance of power that exists between teacher and student. You could have stimulated thought and discussion without browbeating your charges.

Your methodology is typical of teachers who take advantage of a captive audience to make themselves feel right and important.

Any teacher with imagination rather than ego could have relayed the "creationism is myth" message in such a way as to avoid attack. You were clumsy and got called on it.

The court went very easy on you.
"Neither they nor the Farmans ever expressed concerns to me nor to any administrators before they came to school with attorneys and reporters in tow to drop a lawsuit on the desk of Tom Ressler, our principal. "
I don't see why it had to come to this. Even assuming that the family was looking for a fight, aren't there channels that can be pursued BEFORE calling in the lawyers and setting a court date? It seems like the grievance system at this school is hopelessly dysfunctional.
Frankly, I'm stunned that a judge would make such a decision. I cannot imagine the grounds for the decision, but the parents' ploy seems to have worked, although I never knew that "Creationism" was a religion. I thought it was an idea.
I have to come out on the side of DavidNYC, assuming his reading of the report is accurate (I haven't read it, and was waiting, in this post, for the writer to tell us the exact comment(s) he was being sued for.)

Questioning creationism, or anything, and teaching students to question all things, is a teacher's job. Calling creationism, or anything, "superstitious nonsense" is the opposite of teaching students to question. It teaches students that if they put forward a proposition that the teacher disagrees with, they will be shamed. It also models a style of communication that shuts down, rather than opening up, discussion.

Suing over this is a massive overreaction and you should not have had to go through such an ordeal, but arguing that this is about "questioning sacred myths" as opposed to "chastising those who accept sacred myths" paints an inaccurate image.
Convicted of insulting religion? I thought that sort of thing only happens in fundamentalist islamic countries.
Your mistake was thinking of the school system as actual education rather than a conformity factory. You got off easy, particularly compared to Socrates.
Hey Jim, it is another myth that all of California is populated with tree-hugging liberals. We've got a very narrow area of the state just along the coast (give or take a county). The rest of it is as red as they come. Orange County especially.

Mr. Corbett, I'd honor you and take you to dinner. I hope my kids get teachers like you, and I hope you don't get too beat down fighting the good fight. Hey, and stay away from the hemlock.
I meant Jim Malone. In case I was causing any confusion.
I've always wondered how science classes in the US would look if these people's arguments were accepted.

Teacher: "Jim, do you know why thunder and lightning happens?"

Jim: "That's because the god Thor rides through the clouds in his wagon and strikes the clouds with his hammer."

Teacher: "Well, that's one theory, I guess. I'll give you an A for that. Now, does anyone want to teach the controversy?"
@Jim Malone-- check the education stats for California. They are number 49 now. An ignorant polity is a dangerous one.
This sends shivers up my spine, truly. How do we view ourselves as an advanced nation if we fear questioning? I imagine such questioning "threatens" long-held beliefs, those in which many find comfort or a fixed and unchanging version of their truth. The problem is that any fixed idea closes the mind to the possibilities of revision. If not for those insistent few who did not choose to accept "what was" as "what had to be," we'd still treat women as property and view slavery as permissible.

I'm not a religious person but my observant friends tell me doubt is necessary in order to strengthen faith.

Maybe if we taught critical thinking in the fourth grade, kids would know that questioning is how they might learn, grow, and stay open-minded and one step ahead of stereotyping.
The problem was not that you criticized creationism - painting yourself as some type of martyr. But the fact that you did it in the role as a teacher. If religion was being taught in schools as you taught your beliefs, you would be in an uproar. You are there to teach, not question one's person beliefs. Even this letter is one that criticizes religion - you don't address the legal wrong you committed. Does it really matter that things weren't addressed the way you wanted? Not really - its just more of a complaint and plea for sympathy from readers of this letter. How they addressed the issue was not the core problem. What you did was. Be a man and own up to what you did.
Fact is, we may be doing a disservice to our children if we don't make them able to solve problems and think from first principles. Most jobs people are doing today didn't exist when I was young or were done radically differently. We have little real idea of the shape of the world these kids will be living in by the time they are thirty. We will likely enough find a great many of them doing jobs that don't exist now, making use of infrastructures and technologies we don't yet imagine. A skill like critical thinking at least can't go out of date.
Cyphat, dude, there's no blasphemy statute.
Creationism is more than "superstitious nonsense," assuming that you are referring to the "Earth-was-created-6000-years-ago" version.

In order to support this type of Creationism, one has to disbelieve a number of "scientific" theories, such as carbon-dating and the speed of light. If creationists are scientists, they can prove through experiment and reasoning that carbon doesn't deteriorate at a rate that can be determined and that light really travels at a much different rate than many scientists say it does. I've yet to see a creationist who has overthrown the scientific beliefs to provide the support of the theory of evolution.

I might add that there is not an automatic power-disparity between teachers and students. I have had teachers who encouraged students to question and oppose them, and I have done so in their classes. My opinions were not disrespected. Those teachers were the real ones. Perhaps you're one of them. It's impossible to tell by looking at court testimony. Only the experience in the classroom proves anything, and it's likely that it proves different things to different students.
This whole debate reminds me of the controversy over Danish cartoons making fun of Islam, except that it is happening in the US of A; the christians are playing the role of the muslims who were demanding that nonbelievers kowtow to their God; and tragically the religious nutjobs actually won a victory in court.
O the joy of righteous indignation. I will sue!
Here's what I don't get: Why does everyone act like there are "two sides" to this -- two different explanations for the existence of sentient human beings on earth.

There are a LOT more than two. There's the Christian version. There's the Shinto version. There's the Scientologist version. There's the Aborigine version. There's the Hindu version.

If you're teaching the Christian version "alongside" Darwinism, you're immediately excluding dozens of other potentially valid explanations. How is that not unacceptably exclusionary? Let's look at the whole picture here.

Once you put Christian Creationism into the category it belongs in, sandwiched in with all the rest of those, it becomes a bit easier to understand why we teach ONE version, not two, not twelve, not twelve hundred.

The thing there ARE only two of is choices. You can teach the explanation that is based on hundreds of years of research and the best scientific evidence available -- or you can teach a folktale that offers absolutely nothing to back itself up.
This is a tough one. While I absolutely think that our schools should be teaching evolution and "debunking" creationism, I can't help but think that Corbett's ham-handed approach to this task has actually set back the cause of teaching science.

Instead of accomplishing his goal of debunking creationism, Corbett has become a lightening rod for creationists to fight for their perceived rights. Corbett's perceived insensitivity has been cast as harassment (whether true or not) and as such is used by creationists to fight for their cause.

Seems that by being just a little smarter and more diplomatic he could have challenged his students to think without opening himself up to accusations of creating a "hostile environment".

I believe a science teacher can show sensitivity to student's religious beliefs while still teaching evolution and challenging creationism.

Corbett seems to show a lack of understanding of human nature. It's hard to challenge a person to think if the person thinks you are mocking them.
Cyphat: "You are there to teach, not to question one's person[al?] beliefs." The whole POINT of this post is that good teaching causes students to question their personal beliefs; indeed, that is the whole point of education, especially as it pertains to sorting out scientific reasoning from religious doctrine.

Yes, this teacher went a little too far by calling creationism "superstitious nonsense," but since he encourages debate in the classroom the offended student is free to disagree and more importantly to say WHY he disagrees. If that student chooses instead to hide behind mommy and daddy and their lawyers, well, he not only believes in (and refuses to even question) superstitious nonsense, he's also a whiny, vindictive little schmuck.
My take? This is an excellent example of political correctness. Educated people the world over recognize Creationism as superstitious nonsense, but because some 40% of the American public fails to do so, teachers must tiptoe around the subject to spare the feelings of their students. I'd guess that if a teacher were to say, "The Flying Spaghetti Monster account of the beginning of the universe is religious, superstitious nonsense," we'd hear not a peep.
I went to a Catholic school as a kid, and I got looks when I dared to question the idea of creationism. I asked "why can't it be both - evolution and creationism?" Doesn't mean I believed in creationism but I was willing to question that there could be more than one explanation.

I find that one of the biggest problems in California's education system is that we are no longer challenging our students. We seem so attached to teaching to a standardized test that we've forgotten how to give students the tools to question and analyze their world. I fear that we are raising a generation of drones. I applaud you Jim, and teachers like you, who want their students to look critically at everything they come across. We should not just meekly accept what we are told by "authorities" of any sort...whether they are religious, educational, political, or parental. If something doesn't seem right, we should ask ourselves why, instead of just turning a blind eye and nodding our heads. Today's youth needs to be able to think critically if they are going to survive in the world as adults.
Dr. Corbett,

After reading a news story about the case, I can understand why the court took the position that it did. The court did support your right to make many strongly worded statements attacking religion. According to the story, though, the court challenged your right to attack creationism as being “religious, superstitious nonsense” on the basis that:

“The establishment clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from making any law establishing religion. The clause has been interpreted by U.S. courts to also prohibit government employees from displaying religious hostility.”

Although I do not have the full text of the court’s judgment available, I can understand their concerns about your teaching style. My impression is that if the same statement had been made by a student in the class, it would not have been an issue. Similarly, if you had asked the class whether creationism is science or superstition it would have been likely protected by the First Amendment. But you, as the class instructor, went beyond asking to saying that creationism, a belief held dearly by many Americans, is superstitious nonsense and I can see where the court felt that you had crossed a line in your capacity as the class instructor. In the same sense, I can see how the court would have reservations about an instructor who forcefully told his students all of the teachings of the Bible were true.

So Dr. Corbett, it sounds as if you teach a wonderful class. You are obviously a dedicated and a highly motivated instructor who is devoted to teaching your students how to think critically. I don’t doubt that you can avoid this mistake in the future. I sincerely hope that you continue to teach.
I came to this article fulling expecting to take the side of evolution, but instead I find myself sympathetic to the kid. I do think it was over-the-top for his parents to take it to court, rather than handling it within the school, but it's also pretty over-the-top to compare yourself to Socrates. Even if you are that good a teacher, better to leave it to others to make a comparison like that.

So to and to Norwonk, I do think there's a better way to handle religious comments in science class. If "Jim" claims that Thor in his chariot makes the thunder and lightning, why not be sensitive to the fact that Jim may have been taught this his whole life. Instead of shaming poor, ignorant, little Jim by calling his opinion "superstitious nonsense," why not be a bit more gentle: "Interesting you should bring that up Jim. A long time ago people didn't have the scientific instruments and knowledge we have today and they came up with stories like this to explain what they couldn't understand. But now we know..."
The real crime is being forced to teach religious beliefs as science, which creationism is NOT. Period.

Students must confront old, unexamined beliefs in order to find what they really do believe. If your beliefs can't take some examination, that says something right there.
I taught university and community college undergrad and graduate "Critical Thinking" for a few years recently (see bgladd.com/EPS701). I once had an obviously Fundie student get all irate in class and then immediately thereafter drop my class in the wake of my merely bringing up the late Dr. Steve Gould's "Drunkard's Walk" take on evolution, simply to highlight the difficulty in deciding whether something was mere "explanation" vs. advocacy "argument." To the evolution-inclined, it has the beauty of Occam's Razor simplicity (one need only minimally assume [1] a single-celled organism capable of replicating, [2] a stable host environment with a reliable energy input, and [3] a LOT of time -- all of which are verifiable, if you acknowledge science at all). Moreover, it doesn't require any inexorably purposive impetus toward "complexity" (which is where Gould -- citing the voluminous paleonotological record -- parted company with a lot of other evolution theorists). To the Biblical literalist, however, ANY of this is simply evidence of the insidious secular humanist plot to snooker us with word games.

I'd probably last all of a day in U.S. public secondary schools, LOL!
I can only hope my daughter's future teachers are like you.
This is EXACTLY what is needed in schools. The greatest lesson you could ever teach a child is to think for themselves and create their own opinions.
Please keep going, James!
Good luck, Jim. And I hope you'll keep us posted as more develops (as I'm sure it will. . . )
Well, Jim, your problem is your arrogance. You are clearly quite arrogant, both in the context of your post and in the statements you made as reported by the Court. This offended everyone, including an atheist civil rights lawyer like me, and you got your comeuppance. Face it, you were proselytizing against religion and you got nailed for it. I am just surprised they didn't nail you harder.

Still, I think the decision is a poor one, and you should prevail on appeal to the 9th Circuit. I think the court erred in finding that the Peloza comment violated the first and second prongs of the "Lemon" test. Viewing the statment *as a whole* (which is what is required), a reasonable court or jury could find that the statement was made in the context of teaching science (evolution) in the class and providing a religious article outside the classroom in a newspaper. A reasonable finder of fact could conclude that the secular purpose of your statement was your opinion that such discussions should be kept in the classroom where they belong, and that it was right to avoid giving a religious platform to a teacher so he could be an unanswered religious authority in opposition to science. In fact, I would have argued that allowing Peloze the space would have violated the Establishment Clause.

And in cases like this, a tie goes to the runner, so the fact that it could have been viewed as having a secular purpose means that for summary judgment it MUST be viewed that way. I also think the court went too far in equating this to an issue of law, rather than of fact. Purpose is a fact issue, not a legal issue.

Likewise with the "primary effect" prong. It was wrong for the court to look only at a few words in one sentence, rather than at the statement and discussion as a whole in determining primary effect.

Still, you clearly are sending a continued message to your students that religion is so much poppycock (a position with which I happen to agree), and it's not at all surprising that you got sued for it.

But your post demonstrates that you still haven't learned the lesson that you should take away from all this: stop being an arrogant ass in your classroom. You need to learn balance, sensitivity to others, and that in the end you are just a servant of the community, not the be-all and end-all of everything good and right.

And really, likening yourself to Socrates just made me scoff at you. You come off in your blog post like the arrogant ass you come of as in class. You need some humility, and it is unfortunate that this lawsuit did not teach you that lesson.

Look, I think you are factually correct about all of those statements. But that's not the issue for you to focus on. YOU need to change. Isn't that clear to you, yet? You can still be right and not be such a pompous dickhead that you go and get your school district sued. You are lucky to have a job. Thank goodness for unions, huh?

But I am left to wonder... Can the teacher still learn?
"There is no greater gift teachers can give to students than to teach them to think."

Amen. This is what education is all about. Schools should not tr to be "fair" to different views when one view is scientifically false.

However, I quibble with your use of the term "myth." Myths are valuable stories, ancient stories that carry rich and essential truths, whether or not they are factual.

The Biblical creation story is a myth -- and for that reason deserves respect. It was never intended to be scientifically factual; its truths are about humanity's relationship to the divine, and humanity's self-concept -- not about evolution.
Here's the entire decision by the court:

Not Reported in F.Supp.2d, 2009 WL 1202532 (C.D.Cal.)

Motions, Pleadings and Filings
Only the Westlaw citation is currently available.

United States District Court,
C.D. California.
C.F., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CAPISTRANO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.

No. SACV 07-1434 JVS (ANx).
May 1, 2009.

Jennifer Lynn Monk, Robert H. Tyler, Advocates for Faith and Freedom, Murrieta, CA, for Plaintiffs.

Daniel K. Spradlin, Caroline Anne Byrne, Roberta A. Kraus, Woodruff Spradlin & Smart, Costa Mesa, CA, Woodruff Spradlin and Smart APC, Costa Mesa, CA, for Defendant.


FINAL ORDER RE MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT OR SUMMARY ADJUDICATION


JAMES V. SELNA, District Judge.

I. BACKGROUND
*1 Plaintiff C.F., by and through his parents Bill Farnan and Teresa Farnan, (collectively, “Farnan”), asserts a claim for relief for violation of his First Amendment rights by the Capistrano Unified School District (“District”) and Dr. James C. Corbett (“Corbett”) (collectively, “School Defendants”). On April 28, 2008, this Court granted a motion allowing the California Teachers Association (“CTA”) and Capistrano Unified Education Association (“CUEA”), (collectively, “Unions”), to intervene as defendants in the action. (Docket No. 29.) Farnan asserts that his rights under the Establishment Clause have been violated by a practice and policy hostile toward religion and favoring irreligion over religion. (First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) ¶¶ 22, 25.) At the focus of the dispute are remarks made by Corbett in his Advanced Placement European History class. ( Id. at ¶¶ 14-15.)

Farnan, the School Defendants, and the Unions have filed separate cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. FN1 All motions are opposed.

FN1. The Unions have specified that they are moving for summary adjudication in the alternative. In addition, despite the School Defendants' argument, the Court finds that Farnan's motion was filed in a timely manner. ( See School Defendants' Opp. p. 5.) Farnan filed the motion on March 9, 2009, which was Farnan's last day to file the motion. (Docket No. 47.)



II. LEGAL STANDARD
Summary judgment is appropriate only where the record, read in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, indicates that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Material facts are those necessary to the proof or defense of a claim, and are determined by reference to substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A factual issue is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id. at 255.

The burden initially is on the moving party to demonstrate an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. “However, if the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof on an issue at trial, the moving party need not produce affirmative evidence of an absence of fact to satisfy its burden.” In re Brazier Forest Prod., Inc., 921 F.2d 221, 223 (9th Cir.1990). Rather, it “may simply point to the absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Id. If and only if the moving party meets its burden, then the non-moving party must produce enough evidence to rebut the moving party's claim and create a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. If the non-moving party meets this burden, then the motion will be denied. Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz Co., Inc., 210 F.3d 1099, 1103 (9th Cir.2000).

Where the parties have made cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court must consider each motion on its own merits. Fair Hous. Council v. Riverside Two, 249 F.3d 1132, 1136 (9th Cir.2001). The Court will consider each party's evidentiary showing, regardless of which motion the evidence was tendered under. Id. at 1137.


III. DISCUSSION
*2 The United States Constitution prohibits any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” U.S. Const. Amend. I. The parties agree that the appropriate test for determining whether Corbett's statements were permissible under the Establishment Clause is found in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971). ( See Farnan's Mot. p. 14.; Unions' Mot. p. 3; School Defendants' Mot. p. 11.) There, the Supreme Court established a three-pronged standard in its review of Pennsylvania and Rhode Island statutes:

First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.

Lemon, 403 U.S. at 612-13 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Permissible conduct must satisfy all three requirements. Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 583, 107 S.Ct. 2573, 96 L.Ed.2d 510 (1987); Vernon v. City of Los Angeles, 27 F.3d 1385, 1396-97 (9th Cir.1994).

Here, Farnan contends that Corbett violated the Establishment Clause by making comments hostile to religion and to Christianity in particular.FN2 (Farnan's Mot. p. 1.) “Although Lemon is most frequently invoked in cases involving alleged governmental preferences to religion, the test also ‘accommodates the analysis of a claim brought under a hostility to religion theory.’ “ Vasquez v. Los Angeles (“LA”) County, 487 F.3d 1246, 1255 (9th Cir.2007) (quoting Am. Family Ass'n, Inc. v. City and County of San Francisco, 277 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir.2002)). There is no question that “[t]he government neutrality required under the Establishment Clause is ... violated as much by government disapproval of religion as it is by government approval of religion.” Vernon, 27 F.3d at 1396. Thus, the Court must apply the Lemon test to determine whether Corbett made statements in class that were improperly hostile to or disapproving of religion in general, or of Christianity in particular.

FN2. Farnan also refers to the concept of a “religion of secularism” at various points in his motion. ( See e.g., Farnan's Mot. p. 20.) The Supreme Court has found that “the State may not establish a ‘religion of secularism’ in the sense of affirmatively opposing or showing hostility to religion.” School Dist. of Abington Tp., Pa. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 225, 83 S.Ct. 1560, 10 L.Ed.2d 844 (1963). This is simply another way of saying that the state may not affirmatively show hostility to religion. To the extent that Farnan is arguing that Corbett may not put forth secular ideas because he would be creating a “secular religion,” Farnan's argument fails. The Ninth Circuit has found that “neither the Supreme Court, nor this circuit, has ever held that evolutionism or secular humanism are ‘religions' for Establishment Clause purposes.” Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District, 37 F.3d 517, 521 (9th Cir.1994).



A. Separating the Grain from the Chaff
Farnan quotes Corbett on a wide range of topics, only some of which intersect the First Amendment. In this Section, the Court isolates those statements which clearly do not violate the Establishment Clause before turning to the Lemon analysis.FN3

FN3. The Court will refer to all of Corbett's alleged statements from the recordings simply as Corbett's statements throughout this motion for the sake of simplicity. The Court recognizes that the School Defendants claim that some of the CDs and/or transcripts have been edited. ( See School Defendants' Mot. p. 9.)



1. Statements or Opinions Not Touching Upon Religion
First, the Court notes that Farnan, in both the FAC and in his briefs, points to numerous statements allegedly made by Corbett which do not touch upon or mention religion. ( See e.g. FAC ¶¶ 15d, e, h; Farnan's Mot. p. 6, ¶¶ b, c.) Farnan presents these statements as evidence that Corbett made comments hostile to or disapproving of religion.

For example, Farnan points to Corbett's comments regarding the availability of birth control pills at middle school health centers. (FAC ¶ 15e.) Corbett's statements suggest that Corbett believes that abstinence-only policies do not work. ( Id.) None of the statements which do not touch upon religion, however, fail to satisfy the Lemon test and, therefore, do not violate the Establishment Clause. Nor can these statements support an interpretation that Corbett's other statements demonstrate hostility or disapproval of religion. The statements do not mention, let alone criticize religion.FN4

FN4. Many of these statements are more properly construed as espousing what many would term “liberal,” rather than “conservative,” viewpoints. Whether Corbett may espouse “liberal” as opposed to “conservative” viewpoints in the classroom is not at issue in this action and is not relevant to a claim pursuant to the Establishment Clause. Moreover, Farnan's suggestion that Corbett should not spend class time discussing current events in an AP European History Course is not relevant to the Establishment Clause claim. The Court notes, however, that it is not unreasonable for a history teacher to illustrate historical points with references to the modern world.


*3 A statement by a government official does not violate the Establishment Clause merely because a particular religious group may find the official's position incorrect or offensive. Such a finding would require a teacher to tailor his comments so as not to offend or disagree with any religious group. This would be unworkable given the number of different religious viewpoints on various issues. This would also be directly contrary to the fundamental principles of Establishment Clause jurisprudence because it would require a teacher to attempt to teach in accordance with certain religious principles.

Well-established case law also reinforces this point. In Smith v. Board of School Comm'rs of Mobile County, 827 F.2d 684, 693 (11th Cir.1987), the court held that the fact that certain religious individuals found some of the material in school textbooks offensive was not “sufficient to render use of th [e] material in the public schools a violation of the establishment clause.” The court further noted that:

[G]iven the diversity of religious views in this country, if the standard were merely inconsistency with the beliefs of a particular religion there would be very little that could be taught in the public schools. As Justice Jackson has stated: Authorities list 256 separate and substantial religious bodies to exist in the ... United States.... If we are to eliminate everything that is objectionable to any of these warring sects or inconsistent with any of their doctrines, we will leave public education in shreds. Nothing but educational confusion and a discrediting of the public school system can result ....

Id. at 693 n. 10 (quoting McCollum v. Board of Ed., 333 U.S. 203, 235, 68 S.Ct. 461, 92 L.Ed. 649 (1948) (Jackson, J., concurring)) (emphasis supplied).

Likewise, in Epperson v. State of Ark., 393 U.S. 97, 89 (1968), the Supreme Court struck down Arkansas statutes forbidding the teaching of evolution in public schools and in colleges and universities, finding that the statutes violated the Establishment Clause. The Court found that the statutes were unconstitutional even if they merely prohibited teachers from stating that the theory of evolution is true. Id. at 102-03. This was so even though the theory was contrary “to the belief of some that the Book of Genesis must be the exclusive source of doctrine as to the origin of man.” Id. at 107. The Court found that “[t]here is and can be no doubt that the First Amendment does not permit the State to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma.” Id. at 106 (emphasis supplied). The Court also noted that “the state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them.” Id. at 107 (citing Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495, 505, 72 S.Ct. 777, 96 L.Ed. 1098 (1952)).

Thus, Corbett's in-class opinions on various social or political issues not touching upon religion do not violate the Establishment Clause, regardless of whether those of a particular religious faith might disagree with or find his statements offensive. Therefore, any of Corbett's statements which do not touch upon or mention religion satisfy the Lemon test and do not violate the Establishment Clause.


2. Statements or Opinions Touching Upon Religion
*4 The Court finds that several of Corbett's statements in the record which do touch upon or mention religion are clearly not in violation of the Establishment Clause, nor do they shed light on the nature of other statements. For example, Farnan points to the following statements that Corbett made during the fall 2007 semester:

What do you think of somebody who thinks it's necessary to lie in order to make a religious point? ... And um, this kid is in the class, and, as I say, a Christian fundamentalist kid who wanted to be a minister.... And, um, he was actually set on going-I mean, if your parents go there, please, you know, don't be too insulted. But he wanted to go to Biola, which is the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, and truly, as far as colleges go, it's the-it is the college which George Bush is being assigned to (inaudible), and it is the college that has no academic integrity whatsoever. And it is a fundamentalist Christian school. I think, a college that has basically one book.

(Mot. pp. 5-6; Farnan's Ex. B, pp. 36-38.)

After listening to the recording and reviewing the transcript, the Court notes that Farnan leaves out the following important statements from the above discussion. Corbett stated that the “kid who wanted to be a minister” (the “student”) was “absolutely brilliant.” (Farnan's Ex. B, p. 36.) Corbett also stated that, in response to his question about whether it is necessary to lie to make a religious point, the student gave an answer that almost caused Corbett to tear up because “it was so dead on.” ( Id. at 38.) Corbett stated that he knew the answer would be right because he knew the student was a Christian fundamentalist. ( Id.) The student stated, “I don't think the message of Jesus Christ needs any help from liars.” ( Id.) Corbett then explained on the recording that he said, “Yeah, right. You figured it out, you know, who-hoo.” ( Id.) These statements are respectful and, if anything, approving of the Christian student and his religious views.

In addition, after stating that he thought Biola had no “academic integrity,” Corbett explained that he and another faculty member, Tandiary, who was a minister and a fundamentalist Christian, “conspired” to try to prevent the student from going to Biola. ( Id.) Corbett then stated that if the student went to a Christian theology seminary or Harvard, then he would be “truly educated.” ( Id.) In context, Corbett makes clear that he does not hold Biola in high regard because of his view of its academics, and not because it is a Christian fundamentalist school. No reasonable juror could find otherwise given that Corbett speaks highly of attending a Christian theology seminary in the same conversation.

Similarly, Corbett's statements regarding the Boy Scouts satisfy the Lemon test and do not violate the Establishment Clause. Corbett stated:

Now, the Boy Scouts have said, unless you're willing to love God, and unless you're willing to-unless you're not gay, um-they are saying, being gay excludes you. Not believing God or not professing a belief in God also excludes you ... But you see, until they started these rules, Boy Scouts used to-or Boy Scout troops usually met at schools, and places like that, parks, government buildings. They can't do that anymore. They can't do that anymore, because now they are, in their own mind, a homophobic and a racist organization. It's that simple.... It's call[ed] separation of church and state. The Boy Scouts can't have it both ways. If they want to be an exclusive, Christian organization or an exclusive, God-fearing organization, then they can't receive any more support from the state, and shouldn't.

*5 (Farnan's Mot. p. 3; Farnan's Ex. A, p. 4 (emphasis supplied).)

Here, Corbett is expressing his disapproval of what he perceives to be a violation of separation of church and state.FN5 Corbett's statements endorsing the principle of separation of church and state do not indicate hostility towards religion. Having the utmost respect for religion and a strong belief in separation of church and state are not mutually exclusive. The Supreme Court has held that the separation of church and state mandated by the First Amendment “rests upon the premise that both religion and government can best work to achieve their lofty aims if each is left free from the other within its respective sphere.... [T]he First Amendment ha[s] erected a wall between Church and State which must be kept high and impregnable.” McCollum, 333 U.S. at 212. Corbett cannot be found to violate the Establishment Clause for endorsing a principle set forth by the Supreme Court or for voicing his opinion that the Boy Scouts have violated this principle.

FN5. Likewise, in his statement excerpted on page 10 of Farnan's motion, paragraph (n), Corbett is primarily discussing his view that religious groups should not be exempt from paying taxes. This is not necessarily hostile to religion and is more properly construed as further discussion of Corbett's views on separation of church and state.


Moreover, Corbett's statements referring to the Boy Scouts as a “homophobic and racist organization” do not violate the Establishment Clause. In American Family Association, Inc., 277 F.3d at 1118, the Ninth Circuit found that a local government's formal disapproval of an advertising campaign sponsored by religious groups did not violate the Establishment Clause. The advertising campaign espoused the view that “homosexuality is a sin and that homosexuals could change their sexual orientation.” Id. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors sent a letter to the plaintiffs stating, in part, that at least one supervisor “denounces your hateful rhetoric against gays, lesbians, and transgendered people.” Id. The court reasoned that the documents, read as a whole, were “primarily geared toward promoting equality for gays and discouraging violence against them.” Id. Thus, government officials may attempt to promote tolerance and equality by criticizing perceived intolerance and discrimination without violating the Establishment Clause. To hold otherwise would lead to absurd results. Here, the Court finds that Corbett's statements regarding the Boy Scouts' policies are primarily geared toward espousing tolerance and non-discrimination, as well as separation of church and state. Therefore, Corbett's statements regarding the Boy Scouts do not violate the Establishment Clause.FN6

FN6. Similarly, the Court also finds that Corbett's statements pointed out in Farnan's motion, pp. 8-9, ¶¶ i, j, & l, do not violate the Establishment Clause or give weight to Farnan's argument. These statements primarily espouse separation of church and state. In addition, the Court notes that Corbett's statement about his “one religious belief” appears to be, at least in part, respectful of religion given that Corbett is telling the students that he has at least one religious belief.


Having resolved the more clear-cut issues above, the Court now turns to examine the primary statements at issue in this case. These statements require the Court to look more closely at the three-pronged Lemon test. Permissible conduct must satisfy all three requirements. Edwards, 482 U.S. at 583; Vernon, 27 F.3d at 1396-97.


B. The Lemon Analysis
Before turning to the three-pronged analysis, the Court sets forth the standard for reviewing Corbett's statements. After reviewing the parties' supplemental briefs on this issue and having considered the case law, the Court concludes that it is the Court's role to determine whether the statements, which in the main are not contested, meet the requirements of each Lemon prong.

*6 The Ninth Circuit recently held that “[w]hether there has been an Establishment Clause violation is a question of law.” Vasquez, 487 F.3d at 1254 (citation omitted). Likewise, in a concurring opinion in Lynch v. Donnelly, Justice O'Connor explained that:

[W]hether a government activity communicates endorsement of religion is not a question of simple historical fact. Although evidentiary submissions may help answer it, the question is, like the question whether racial or sex-based classifications communicate an invidious message, in large part a legal question to be answered on the basis of judicial interpretation of social facts.

Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 694, 104 S.Ct. 1355, 79 L.Ed.2d 604 (1984) (O'Connor, J., concurring).

It stands to reason that if the question of whether a government activity communicates endorsement of religion is primarily a legal question, then the question of whether a government activity communicates disapproval of religion is also largely a legal question. There are few disputed historical facts in this case. This action is primarily based on Corbett's recorded statements. Thus, the Court will examine the statements to determine whether they satisfy the three-prongs of the Lemon test.FN7

FN7. Although the Court addresses Corbett's statements individually throughout this opinion, the Court finds that the outcome does not change when each statement is viewed in light of the other statements, or when all the statements are viewed together.



1. Secular Purpose
The first prong of the Lemon test is satisfied if the challenged action has a secular purpose. Lemon, 403 U.S. at 612-13. The Ninth Circuit has stated that “[a] practice will stumble on the purpose prong ‘only if it is motivated wholly by an impermissible purpose.’ “ Am. Family Ass'n, Inc., 277 F.3d at 1121. The court in American Family Association also recognized that in Vernon, the court acknowledged “precedent that any secular purpose suffices, but not[ed] that [the Ninth Circuit panel] believes [the] Supreme Court test is really that the ‘actual’ or ‘primary’ purpose must be secular.” Id. (citing Vernon, 27 F.3d at 1397). In addition, “[w]hile we must ‘distinguish a sham secular purpose from a sincere one,’ we should also be ‘reluctant to attribute unconstitutional motives to the [government].’ “ Vasquez, 487 F.3d at 1255 (citing Am. Family Ass'n, 277 F.3d at 1121; McCreary County, Ky. v. Am. Civil Liberties Union of Ky., 545 U.S. 844, 864, 125 S.Ct. 2722, 162 L.Ed.2d 729 (2005); Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 308, 120 S.Ct. 2266, 147 L.Ed.2d 295 (2000); Mueller v. Allen, 463 U.S. 388, 394-95, 103 S.Ct. 3062, 77 L.Ed.2d 721 (1983)). “Unless it seems to be a sham, moreover, the government's assertion of a legitimate secular purpose is entitled to deference. We must be cautious about attributing unconstitutional motives to state officials.” Chaudhuri v. State of Tenn., 130 F.3d 232, 236 (9th Cir.1997).

Farnan argues that Corbett's “only purpose in making these statements is to make sure that the students who sit before him as a captive audience understand that religion is irrational.” (Farnan's Mot. p. 15.) The Unions respond that Corbett's statements were made for the purpose of teaching European history and deductive reasoning. (Unions' Opp. pp. 6-7.)


The Peloza Comment
*7 The Court turns first to Corbett's statement regarding John Peloza (“Peloza”). (Farnan's Ex. I, pp. 222-25.) This statement presents the closest question for the Court in assessing secular purpose. Peloza apparently brought suit against Corbett because Corbett was the advisor to a student newspaper which ran an article suggesting that Peloza was teaching religion rather than science in his classroom. ( Id.) Corbett explained to his class that Peloza, a teacher, “was not telling the kids [Peloza's students] the scientific truth about evolution.” ( Id.) Corbett also told his students that, in response to a request to give Peloza space in the newspaper to present his point of view, Corbett stated, “I will not leave John Peloza alone to propagandize kids with this religious, superstitious nonsense.” ( Id.) One could argue that Corbett meant that Peloza should not be presenting his religious ideas to students or that Peloza was presenting faulty science to the students. But there is more to the statement: Corbett states an unequivocal belief that creationism is “superstitious nonsense.” The Court cannot discern a legitimate secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context. The statement therefore constitutes improper disapproval of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.


The Mark Twain Quote
Corbett's quotation of Mark Twain also requires close scrutiny. Corbett stated, “What was it that Mark Twain said? ‘Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.’ “ (Farnan's Ex. D, p. 75.) The remark comes as part of a historical discussion of the tension between religion and science. Corbett contrasted science's continuing search for “rational” explanations when one explanation proves insufficient as opposed to stopping the inquiry in favor of “magic.” ( Id.) Notwithstanding the biting nature of Twain's observations, and this one in particular, it illustrates a turn to the non-rational when man cannot, or is unable, to develop a rational solution.FN8 Moreover, it is not clear that Corbett was espousing Twain's view rather than merely quoting it. In context, the Court cannot say that the primary purpose of the quote was to disparage, and thus it does not violate the First Amendment.

FN8. The Court uses the term “rational” here only to mean that which can be tested by generally accepted scientific principles.


After careful review of the other statements at issue in the case, and in light of the standard that deference should be given to the government's assertion of a legitimate secular purpose, the Court finds that Corbett's primary purpose in making the remaining statements at issue was to teach the students about European history, current world events, and deductive reasoning in preparation for the AP European history exam.


“Jesus Glasses.”
For example, in one of Corbett's lectures he stated, “when you put on your Jesus glasses, you can't see the truth.” (Farnan's Ex. A, p. 25.) However, this statement was made in the context of a discussion about how certain peasants did not support Joseph II's reforms for religious reasons, even though the reforms were in the peasants' best political and economic interests. ( Id. at 24-25.) Corbett also seemed to be making a general point that people sometimes make choices that are against their best interests for religious reasons and that religion has and can be used as a manipulative tool. ( Id.) He further suggested that in order to create social change and “overturn long-held traditions overnight without causing chaos” you need to first work to gather support for your position. ( Id. at 25.)

*8 The “Jesus glasses” phrase, standing alone, could be read as a general assertion that all people who believe in Jesus cannot see the truth. However, given the context of the discussion and given that “[w]e must be cautious about attributing unconstitutional motives to state officials,” the Court declines to attribute such an overly-broad and improper purpose to the phrase for purposes of this motion. See Chaudhuri, 130 F.3d at 236. One cannot say that Corbett's primary purpose here was to criticize Christianity or religion. The Court finds that, given the context, Corbett's primary purpose was to illustrate the specific historical point regarding the peasants in the discussion and to make the general point that religion can cause people to make political choices which are not in their best interest. Although the Court offers no opinion on the validity of these concepts, the Court notes that these views are not necessarily hostile to religion and are relevant concepts for discussion in an AP European history course.FN9

FN9. Farnan concedes that the recommended topics set forth by the College Board include “the development of changes in religious thought and institutions and changes in elite and popular culture, such as the development of new attitudes toward religion, the family, work, and ritual.” (Farnan's Reply p. 7.) This presumably includes the effect that religion has had over social and political choices.


On this prong, therefore, the Court finds that Farnan is entitled to summary adjudication against Corbett with respect to the Peloza statement.FN10 The School Defendants and the Unions are entitled to summary adjudication on all other statements.

FN10. The Court discusses the District's liability in a separate section below.



2. Primary Effect
The second prong of the Lemon test is satisfied if the principal or primary effect of the challenged action is one that neither advances nor inhibits religion. Lemon, 403 U.S. at 612-13. “A government practice has the effect of impermissibly advancing or disapproving of religion if it is ‘sufficiently likely to be perceived by adherents of the controlling denominations as an endorsement, and by the non-adherents as a disapproval, of their individual religious choices.’ “ Brown v. Woodland Joint Unified School Dist., 27 F.3d 1373, 1378 (9th Cir.1994) (citing School Dist. of Grand Rapids v. Ball, 473 U.S. 373, 390 (1985)). “We conduct this inquiry from the perspective of a ‘reasonable observer,’ who is both informed and reasonable.” Am. Family Ass'n, Inc., 277 F.3d at 1121. This is an objective, not a subjective, standard. Brown, 27 F.3d at 1379. The Ninth Circuit has explained that “[p]eople may take offense at all manner of religious as well as nonreligious messages. If an Establishment Clause violation arose each time a student believed that a school practice either advanced or disapproved of a religion, school curricula would be reduced to the lowest common denominator, permitting each student to become a ‘curriculum review committee’ unto himself or herself.” Id.

In Vasquez, the Ninth Circuit recently addressed an alleged violation of the Establishment Clause in a hostility to religion context. Vasquez, 487 F.3d at 1246. The court noted that “we have little guidance concerning what constitutes a primary effect of inhibiting religion” but that the most instructive cases in the Ninth Circuit were Vernon and American Family Association. Id . at 1256. In Vernon, the city investigated a police officer's religious beliefs in order to determine if he was performing his duties in violation of the Establishment Clause. Vernon, 27 F.3d at 1397. The officer claimed that the investigation had the primary effect of inhibiting or disapproving of his religion. Id. at 1390. The court held that:

*9 Notwithstanding the fact that one may infer possible city disapproval of [plaintiff's] religious beliefs from the direction of the investigation, this cannot objectively be construed as the primary focus or effect of the investigation. The primary purpose of the government action was the investigation of any possible impermissible or illegal on-duty conduct of [plaintiff]. [The investigation could not] reasonably be construed to send as its primary message the disapproval of [plaintiff's] religious beliefs.

Id. at 1398-99.

Likewise, in American Family Association, the court held that a resolution condemning anti-gay advertisements put forth by a religious group, when “read in context as a whole, [was] primarily geared toward promoting equality for gays and discouraging violence against them ... a reasonable, objective observer would view the primary effect of [the resolution] as encouraging equal rights for gays and discouraging hate crimes, and any statements from which disapproval can be inferred only incidental and ancillary .” Am. Family Ass'n, Inc., 277 F.3d at 1122-23 (emphasis supplied). Finally, in Vasquez, the court found that a reasonable observer would not perceive the primary effect of removing the cross from the LA County Seal as one of hostility towards religion. Vasquez, 487 F.3d at 1257.

Thus, the question here is whether, when looking at the context as a whole, a reasonable observer would perceive the primary effect of Corbett's statements as disapproving of religion in general or of Christianity in particular. FN11 Put another way, the Court must consider whether it would be objectively reasonable for Corbett's statements to be construed as sending primarily a message of disapproval. Although the Court has carefully reviewed and considered all the relevant statements in the record in reaching a decision on this motion, the Court will only address certain statements in this written opinion, focusing on those statements referred to in Farnan's motion and in Farnan's Statement of Uncontroverted Facts (“SUF”)

FN11. In Brown, the Ninth Circuit considered the “vulnerable nature” of elementary school children, finding that the appropriate test was “whether an objective observer in the position of an elementary school student would perceive a message of ... disapproval of Christianity.” Brown, 27 F.3d at 1378-79. Similarly, the Eleventh Circuit has found that “[i]n applying the Lemon test to a situation involving the public schools, the Court ‘must do so mindful of the particular concerns that arise in the context of public elementary and secondary schools.’ “ Smith, 827 F.2d at 689 (citation omitted). Although Brown referred only to elementary school students, this Court will take into account that the present case involves high school students taking an AP course when applying the “reasonable observer” test. The Court also notes that whether C.F. voluntarily took the course or not is irrelevant to the Establishment Clause claim. In Brown, the court explained that “the opportunity to opt out does not cure any potential constitutional violation.” Brown, 27 F.3d at 1380 n. 5.



The Peloza Comment
The Court turns first to Corbett's statement regarding Peloza discussed above. ( See Farnan's Ex. I, pp. 222-25.) The Court finds that Corbett's statement primarily sends a message of disapproval of religion or creationism. As discussed above, Corbett states an unequivocal belief that creationism is “superstitious nonsense.” Corbett could have criticized Peloza for teaching religious views in class without disparaging those views.


The Mark Twain Quote
Next, the Court considers the Mark Twain quote. Corbett stated, “What was it that Mark Twain said? Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.” (Farnan's Ex. D, p. 75.) When read in context, the primary effect of the comment was not to disapprove of religion. A reasonable observer would not assume that Corbett was endorsing Twain's view of religion.

The primary effect of the balance of the statements relied upon by Farnan is not to disapprove of religion.


“Jesus Glasses.”
*10 First, the Court turns to the “Jesus glasses” phrase. As discussed above, this phrase, standing alone, could be read as a general assertion disapproving of Christianity. Even if one could infer disapproval of religion or Christianity, however, the comment only violates the Establishment Clause if the disapproval can be objectively construed as the primary focus or effect of the statement, read in context.

Here, the “Jesus glasses” comment is one sentence or phrase in the middle of a larger discussion about how religion may affect political choices and how it can be used as a manipulative tool. Corbett was explaining that certain peasants did not support Joseph II's reforms for religious reasons, even though the reforms were in the peasants' best political and economic interests. Corbett also seemed to make a general point that people sometimes make choices that are against their best interests for religious reasons and that religion has and can be used as a manipulative tool.

This context suggests that the phrase was primarily focused on and would be reasonably interpreted as primarily illustrating the specific historical point regarding the peasants and Corbett's point that religion can be misused. Similarly, it appears that Corbett's referral to religion as “irrational” had the primary effect of demonstrating how religion can be used as a manipulative tool.FN12 ( See Farnan's Ex. A, p. 24.) It is not improper for an AP European History teacher to discuss how religion can intersect with social and political choices.

FN12. The Court notes that the term “irrational” is sometimes used to mean, simply, that which cannot be proven by generally accepted scientific methods, and does not necessarily mean “crazy” or “absurd,” as it often does in common parlance.



Connection Between Religion and Morality.
The Court turns to Corbett's comments regarding the connection between religion and morality. Corbett made the following statement:

Here's another interesting thing that just kind of-I'm not implying causality. I'm just using correlation. People in Europe who are least likely to go to church ... are the Swedes. The people in the industrialized world most likely to go to church are the Americans. America has the highest crime rate of all industrialized nations, and Sweden has the lowest. The next time somebody tells you religion is connected with morality, you might want to ask them about that.

( Id. at 5.)

These statements cannot be reasonably construed as primarily disapproving of religion. Corbett explicitly states that he is not drawing a causal connection but merely pointing out a correlation. The statement that there is a correlation between church attendance and crime rates is an interesting sociological fact appropriate for a college level discussion and seems to only suggest disapproval of religion by way of speculation or inference.FN13

FN13. Whether Corbett's statements discussed throughout this opinion are factually true or not is irrelevant to the Court's analysis here and the Court does not opine on whether the statements are factually true.



Views on Reproduction.
On this topic, Corbett stated:

[C]onservatives don't want women to avoid pregnancies. That's interfering with God's work. You got to stay pregnant, barefoot, and in the kitchen and have babies until your body collapses. All over the world, doesn't matter where you go, the conservatives want control over women's reproductive capacity. Everywhere in the world. From conservative Christians in this country to, um, Muslim fundamentalists in Afghanistan. It's the same. It's stunning how vitally interested they are in controlling women.

*11 ( Id. at 11.)

Corbett is primarily giving his opinion that women should have control over reproductive choices. As discussed above, even if certain religious groups find Corbett's position on the political issue offensive or incorrect, there is no violation of the Establishment Clause. The Court recognizes, however, that Corbett is also expressing disapproval of certain religious positions on the issue. However, as in American Family Association, it seems that the statements from which disapproval can be inferred are only incidental and ancillary to Corbett's primary political point regarding reproduction.


Connection Between Religion and Punishment.
Farnan points to Corbett's discussion of the connection between religion and views on crime and punishment. Corbett stated:

So we know what rehabilitation works and that punishment doesn't, and yet we go on punishing. It really has a lot to do with these same culture wars we're talking about. This whole Biblical notion: Sinners need to be punished. And so you get massively more Draconian punishment in the South where religion is much more central to society than you do anyplace else. And, of course, the Southerners get really upset, as what they see as lenient behavior in the North. You know, we're going to solve this problem. Except, guess what? What part of the country has the highest murder rate? The South. What part of the country has the highest rape rate? The South. What part of the country has the highest (inaudible) church attendance? The South. Oh, wait a minute. You mean there is not a correlation between these things? No, there isn't. Um, in fact, there is an inverse correlation. In those places where people go to church the least, the crime was the most. And that's not just Sweden and the United States. That's Pennsylvania and Georgia.

( Id. at 23.)

A reasonable observer would view the above statements as being primarily geared towards expressing the view that rehabilitation works and punishment does not. The Court recognizes that Corbett suggested his disapproval of religions or religious views that support punishment and argued that religious societies that focus on punishment do not effectively deter crime. Corbett was stating a correlation between religion and a particular political view and then taking issue with that political stance. The statements from which disapproval can be inferred are only incidental and ancillary, however, to Corbett's primary political point regarding crime and punishment.


Scientific Reasoning and the Bible.
Farnan points to several statements in which Corbett discussed the scientific revolution, scientific reasoning, and religion. For example, Corbett stated the following: FN14

FN14. These statements were not made in the above order and were not necessarily made in the same discussions or lectures.


Um, see, people believed before the scientific revolution that the Bible was literal and that anything that happened, God did it. They didn't understand. They didn't have the scientific method. They didn't approach truth. The explanation to everything literally was that God did it. And the ultimate authority, who was (inaudible). The ultimate authority was the Bible. And, for example, you have (singing) Joshua fought the battle of Jericho ... [b]ecause the sun stopped in the sky. Well, if the Bible says the sun stopped, the sun must have stopped. Of course, those Chinese astronomers who were watching the same sun didn't notice this phenomenon. But if it's in the Bible, it must be true ... So there you go. They believe the Bible literally.... So, you know, understand that we have this sort of mindless centric notion, right? And these people didn't even know about it-get it out. They didn't even know about the Western Hemisphere. So they thought Jerusalem is in the center of the world.
*12 So-and presumably-and think how humbling it's going to be, you know, when all these people who have been talking about Adam and Eve and creation and all of this stuff for all that time when eventually something happens, and they find out that there are people on another planet, six billion light years away, who don't look like us, worshiping huge geckos.... You have (inaudible) people who are deep believers and find out that maybe we're not so important. Aristotle was a physicist. He said, ‘no movement without movers.’ And he argued that, you know there sort of has to be a God. Of course that's nonsense. I mean, that's what you call deductive reasoning, you know. And you hear it all the time with people who say, ‘Well, if all of this stuff that makes up the universe is here, something must have created it.’ Faulty logic. Very faulty logic.

[T]he other possibility is it's always been here. Those are the two possibilities: it [the universe] was created out of nothing or it's always been here. Your call as to which one of those notions is scientific and which one is magic. [Inaudible] the spaghetti monster behind the moon. I mean, all I'm saying is that, you know, the people who want to make the argument that God did it, there is as much evidence that God did it as there is that there is a gigantic spaghetti monster living behind the moon who did it.

Therefore, no creation, unless you invoke magic. Science doesn't invoke magic. If we can't explain something, we do not uphold that position. It's not, ooh, then magic. That's not the way we work.

Contrast that with creationists. They never try to disprove creationism. They're all running around trying to prove it. That's deduction. It's not science. Scientifically, it's nonsense.

(Farnan's Ex. D, pp. 71-75, 81.)
Even if one could infer religious disapproval from the above comments, a reasonable observer would find that the primary effect of Corbett's statements above was to distinguish generally accepted scientific reasoning from religious belief and to illustrate a historical shift from religious to scientific thinking. For example, in the first paragraph above, Corbett explained that people once believed that the sun did not move in the sky because of a literal interpretation of the Bible. He then suggested that we have learned through scientific study that the sun does move through space. He also explained that people once thought we were literally in the center of the Earth and were unaware that the Western Hemisphere existed. He stated that “they didn't approach truth,” indicating that Corbett believes that the “truth” is that the sun is a moving object and that Jerusalem is not in the center of the Earth. FN15

FN15. Similarly, he suggested that someday certain religious groups may be “humbled” to discovery that we are not in the center of the universe.


In Epperson, 393 U.S. at 102-03, the Supreme Court struck down statutes forbidding the teaching of evolution in public schools, stating that the statutes were unconstitutional even if they merely prohibited teachers from stating that the theory of evolution is true. This was so even though the theory was contrary “to the belief of some that the Book of Genesis must be the exclusive source of doctrine as to the origin of man.” Id. at 107. Here, Corbett not only indicated that the scientific principles were true, but also affirmatively suggested that the literal interpretation of the Bible was not true. This goes one step beyond Epperson and could be construed as expressing affirmative disapproval of religious beliefs. Examining the full context of the discussion, however, a reasonable observer would find that the statements had the primary effect of describing the secularization in thinking over time due to increasing belief in scientific principles.

*13 In the next three paragraphs quoted above, Corbett discussed the difference between scientific reasoning and logical deduction and religious belief or faith. Again, although one could possibly infer that Corbett was advocating generally accepted scientific reasoning over religious belief or faith, a reasonable observer would not find that this was the primary effect of the discussion. For example, in discussing creationism, Corbett stated that “[s]cientifically, it's nonsense.” Corbett did not say that he thinks creationism is nonsense but that generally accepted scientific principles do not logically lead to the theory of creationism. The Court recognizes, however, that common sense dictates that people of a certain religious faith may be offended by a comparison of their religion to “magic” and that this could be construed as being derogatory. Nevertheless, the Court cannot find that the primary effect of the lecture was to disapprove of religion.

Accordingly, the Court grants summary adjudication on the primary effect prong of the Lemon test against Corbett with regard to Peloza statement and in favor of the School Defendants and the Unions with regard to all other statements.


3. Excessive Entanglement
The third prong of the Lemon test is satisfied if the challenged action does not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion. Lemon, 403 U.S. at 612-13.

Farnan correctly points out that “one of the factors we examine in determining whether excessive entanglement has occurred is whether the challenged governmental action caused citizens to divide along political lines.” Farnan Mot. p. 18; Vasquez, 487 F.3d at 1258. Courts have found, however, that “[t]he political divisiveness doctrine generally is applied only in cases involving direct government subsidies to sectarian institutions.” Brown, 27 F.3d at 1383; see also Vernon, 27 F.3d at 1401, citing Lynch, 465 U.S. at 684 (O'Connor, J., concurring) (stating that the entanglement inquiry seems to be applied mainly in cases involving direct financial subsidies paid to parochial schools or to teachers in parochial schools). This is not such a case. Therefore, the Court finds that the political divisiveness doctrine does not demonstrate excessive entanglement.FN16

FN16. In addition, in American Family Association, the court explained that “[p]olitical divisiveness, however, has never been relied upon as an independent ground for holding a government practice unconstitutional.” Am. Family Ass'n, Inc., 277 F.3d at 1123 (internal citations quotations omitted). The court further explained that if a government statement or action involving a controversial issue “were enough to create an Establishment Clause violation on entanglement grounds, government bodies would be at risk any time they took an action that affected potentially religious issues, including abortion, alcohol use, other sexual issues, etc.” Id.


Farnan also argues that Corbett made statements in violation of the Establishment Clause which were continual and incessant and the School District “did nothing to lessen them.” (Farnan's Mot. p. 18.) This Court agrees that the excessive entanglement prong generally requires some degree of ongoing entanglement. In Vernon, for example, the Ninth Circuit found no excessive entanglement, explaining that the “plaintiff has presented no evidence at all to suggest that the challenged government action will be ongoing and continuous.” Vernon, 27 F.3d at 1400. The court cited Walz v. Tax Commission of New York, 397 U.S. 664, 674-75, 90 S.Ct. 1409, 25 L.Ed.2d 697 (1970), which stated that “the questions are whether the involvement is excessive, and whether it is a continuing one calling for official and continuing surveillance.” In Brown, the court found no excessive entanglement, noting that “no future monitoring” would be necessary. Brown, 27 F.3d at 1384.

*14 As discussed above, this Court has only found the Peloza statement violative of the First Amendment. Farnan might argue, however, that the deposition testimony of Ryan Correll (“Correll”) demonstrates a pattern of continued statements which are hostile to religion. Correll testified that he took Corbett's AP Art History class in 2002-2003. (Correll Depo., Farnan's Ex. S, p. 9.) Correll testified that Corbett stated “all you Christians can go to hell” during a class period. ( Id. at 32-33.) Correll further claimed that the statement was made in the context of Corbett discussing “Christians and evangelism and, you know, people trying to push their views on him ... and his response to that.” ( Id. at 33.)

The Court first notes that any statements made in the AP Art History class are not themselves actionable in this case because Farnan, as the plaintiff in this action, does not have standing as to those alleged statements. In Vasquez, the Ninth Circuit explained that the plaintiffs in another case “had standing because they were directly affected by the laws and practices against which their complaints [were] directed.” Vasquez, 487 F.3d at 1251 (citation and internal quotations omitted). Here, Farnan was not directly affected by Corbett's alleged statements made to an Art History class in 2002-2003.

However, even if one finds Correll's testimony credible, that testimony when combined with the Peloza statement is not sufficient to demonstrate ongoing, excessive entanglement.

Accordingly, this Court grants summary adjudication in favor of the School Defendants and the Unions with respect to the excessive entanglement prong of the Lemon test.


C. The District's Liability
Although the Court has found that one of Corbett's statements does not satisfy the first and second prongs of the Lemon test, it does not necessarily follow that the District is liable. The parties spend little time discussing the District's liability in their briefs. Farnan contends that the District failed to take action to prevent Corbett from making anti-religious statements. (Farnan's Opp. p. 9.) In the FAC, Farnan alleges that the District's continued employment of Corbett “convey[s] a governmental message that students holding religious beliefs are outsiders and are not full members of the community.” (FAC ¶ 24.) However, Farnan has not presented sufficient evidence that the District conveyed such a message. Nor has Farnan demonstrated that the District is liable pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Farnan has produced almost no evidence that the District was aware, prior to this action, that Corbett made any statements hostile to religion. Tom Ressler (“Ressler”), the Principal at Capistrano Valley High School in 2007, testified that there was at least one complaint against Corbett by a parent which Ressler believed was lodged prior to this action. (Ressler Depo. 26-29.) Ressler stated that there could have been more complaints but he could not remember them. ( Id.) Ressler did not testify, however, that the complaint had any connection to religion. ( Id.) He merely explained that the complaint had to do with “the content of the class.” ( Id.) In addition, Ressler explained that he believed that the complaint came shortly before the filing of this lawsuit, stating that “[i]t was pretty close.” ( Id.) Given that there is no evidence that this complaint pertained to religion and that the complaint apparently came shortly before the lawsuit was filed, the Court finds that it is not sufficient to demonstrate that the District knew of any anti-religious comments or that the District had time to take appropriate action prior to the filing of the lawsuit.

*15 Farnan also points to the Declaration of Lynley Rosa (“Rosa”), whose son was enrolled in Corbett's AP European History class during the fall of 2007. (Rosa Decl. ¶ 4.) Rosa declares that she spoke to her son's guidance counselor, expressing concerns regarding statements made by Corbett. ( Id. at ¶ 6.) She was concerned because her son had told her that Corbett made statements “that reflected hostile attitudes concerning conservatives and Republicans .” FN17 ( Id. at ¶ 5.)

FN17. This is not hearsay because Rosa's testimony is offered to demonstrate that Rosa complained to the school about Corbett's comments and not as evidence that Corbett actually made the statements. See Fed.R.Evid. 801. Rosa's testimony about the guidance counselor's responsive comments, however, is hearsay because Rosa is testifying as to what the counselor said to prove the truth of the statements. See id.; Rosa Decl. ¶ 6.


The failure to respond to the above complaints, one of which was not necessarily related to religion, is simply not sufficient to show that the District conveyed a message hostile to religion or failed to satisfy the three prongs of the Lemon test. This is particularly true given that the Court has found that only one statement did not satisfy the Lemon test. Thus, the District did not directly violate the Establishment Clause.

Nor can the District be held vicariously liable for Corbett's statement regarding Peloza under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. “Liability under section 1983 arises only upon a showing of personal participation by the defendant. There is no respondeat superior liability under section 1983.” Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir.1989) (citations omitted). In addition “[a] supervisor is only liable for constitutional violations of his subordinates if the supervisor participated in or directed the violations, or knew of the violations and failed to act to prevent them. Id. Rosa's complaint to the guidance counselor is not sufficient evidence that the District knew of comments hostile to religion.

Although the School Defendants and the Unions did not directly argue the above legal points regarding the District's liability, the Court finds that the relevant facts and legal issues have been adequately ventilated. See Cool Fuel, Inc. v. Connett, 685 F.2d 309, 311-12 (9th Cir.1982). Thus, the Court grants summary judgment in favor of the District.


IV. CONCLUSION
For the foregoing reasons, Farnan's motion for summary judgment is granted against Corbett with respect to the Peloza statement. The School Defendant and the Unions' motions are granted with respect to all other statements and with respect to the District's liability.FN18

FN18. The Court need not address the Unions' Request for Judicial Notice. The Unions submitted a copy of the CollegeBoard AP, European History Course Description in conjunction with the Declaration of Michael Hersh (“Hersh”). (Hersh Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 1.) Although the Declaration is not sworn and does not refer to the penalty of perjury, the Court will nevertheless consider the Course Description as evidence. In addition, the Court need not address the School Defendants' Objections to Plaintiff's Evidence because the Court did not rely on the evidence objected to in reaching this decision. Finally, the Court sustains Farnan's Objection to Defendants' Reply to Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' SUF. Local Rules 56-1 and 56-2 do not authorize a party to submit a Reply to the opposing party's SUF.



Afterword

This case reflects the tension between the constitutional rights of a student and the demands of higher education as reflected in the Advanced Placement European History course in which Farnan enrolled. It also reflects a tension between Farnan's deeply-held religious beliefs and the need for government, particularly schools, to carry out their duties free of the strictures of any particular religious or philosophical belief system. The Constitution recognizes both sides of the equation.

AP courses encourage and test critical thinking. (Spradlin Decl. Ex. A, pp. 12, 19, 21 & passim; pagination per exhibit.) That necessarily involves conflict: historical conflicts of many types, including conflicts between religion and government or competing philosophical belief systems,FN19 and conflicts in the classroom as teachers and students work through those historical conflicts, bringing their own thoughts and analysis to bear. Intellectual development requires discussion and critique of a wide range of views. The Court's ruling today reflects the constitutionally-permissible need for expansive discussion even if a given topic may be offensive to a particular religion or if a particular religion takes one side of a historical debate.

FN19. E.g., changes in religious thought and institutions; secularization of learning and culture; changes in elite and popular culture, such as the development of new attitudes toward religion, family, and work; changing definitions and attitudes toward social groups, classes, races, and ethnicities. (Spradlin Decl., Ex. A, pp. 12-13; pagination per exhibit.)


*16 The decision also reflects that there are boundaries. In this case, the Court has found that a single statement transgresses Farnan's First Amendment rights. To entertain an exception for conduct that might be characterized as isolated or de minimis undermines the basic right in issue: to be free of a government that directly expresses disapproval of religion. The Supreme Court's comments with regard to governmental promotion of religion apply with equal force where the government disapproves of religion:

[I]t is no defense to urge that the religious practices here may be relatively minor encroachments on the First Amendment. The breach of neutrality that is today a trickling stream may all too soon become a raging torrent and, in the words of Madison, ‘it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties.’

School Dist. of Abington, 374 U.S. at 225; see also Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 36-37, 124 S.Ct. 2301, 159 L.Ed.2d 98 (2004) (O'Connor, J., concurring) (explaining that “[t]here are no de minimis violations of the Constitution”); Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577, 594, 112 S.Ct. 2649, 120 L.Ed.2d 467 (1992).FN20

FN20. Village Church v. Village of Long Grove, 468 F.3d 975, 995 (7th Cir.2006), is not to the contrary. The Seventh Circuit merely held that the third Lemon prong, excessive entanglement, must be more than de minimis. However, to pass muster under Lemon, conduct must satisfy each prong of the test. Here it does not.


The ruling today protects Farnan, but also protects teachers like Corbett in carrying out their teaching duties.
So, would it be okay if they challenged your view of things as "myth". Or is the "myth" that teachers are all knowing sacrosanct? Is it only teachers that get to decide what is and is not "myth?' Are they the deciders?
Does anyone have a link to the case so I can read it?
Provocative teachers always get bashed. I have gotten beaten on for the unpopular idea, for example, that the Soviet Union was about to collapse (October 1988).
I have gotten beaten on for calling real estate a bubble( 2003).
I have gotten beaten on for predicting that
a) Russia is about to overturn the balance of power.
b) the United States is about to be collapsed by other great powers, in order to accelerate its own problems causing a collapse: read Entitlements.
DeTocqueville indentified the problem very early: the tyranny of the majority. Because we have no formal aristocracy, we hate people who disagree with the majority opinion because they must think that they are better than we are.
Thus he could say in 1836, I believe the publication date:
"Nowehere in the world is their less originality of thought than in the United States."
Hopefully Mr. DeTocqueville will ease our pain of unconventionality.
Very well argued. I like how the tone doesn't get sanctimonious or petty in spite of the outrageousness of the lawsuit; your measured, rational voice goes a long way towards validating your arguments. I admire your strength and courage to put knowledge first no matter what.
I oppose thought control in all forms. I do a simple test when these situations present themselves to separate "free speech" from "control speech" advocates. For example, when someone tells me they want prayer in school because it's free speech, I say fine, when can I lead the students in a prayer to Satan? Suddenly, prayer supporters lose their interest in free speech.

Same principle holds true here. Suppose the phrase "superstitious nonsense" had been applied by you to evolution. Suddenly, evolution supporters no longer support your free speech rights.

This posting is a sorry attempt to conflate the religion vs. science argument with thought control, knowing evolutionists would rally around in an attempt to further their agenda. Is your faith so feeble you must dictate your students' belief? I knew Socrates. Socrates was a close personal friend of mine. And you, sir, are no Socrates. But you clearly lead a life unexamined.

As a side note, whoever headlined this posting on the cover either has very low reading comprehension skills or has no qualms about misleading readers. It should read: "I was sued for dictating thought".
There's a pretty big irony in all this that, as far as I can see, has gone unmentioned. Creationist groups such as the Discovery Institute have, for years, been seeking to claim that Intelligent Design (which is really just old-earth creationism with a peppering of Michael Behe) is, in fact, a science. Indeed, the famous Dover, PA trial hinged on this.

Now, this lawsuit is predicated on the idea that Creationism (or ID) is a religion and is, therefore, protected.

Can we take the creationists at their word this time?
i applaud your attempts to get your students to think. many parents are eager to protect their kids egos, to the detriment of their minds. everyone has some piece of treasured nonsense in their philosophy (mine is that "people are nice"). we should be willing to think about how we construct our ideas for the moments we have to defend them. the price of stupid is so much higher than the price of freedom, and most folks don't even seem to know they're paying it.
A parent was furious with me for teaching my AP U.S. history students some of Lincoln's racist quotes while he was running for president in Illinois. Their child had discussed them with her father, and the father questioned the need to tell the students about them.

How can we understand the mountain if we aren't willing to paint it from all its sides?

Keep up the battle. And keep questioning.
To echo the sentiment of others: I wish I'd had a history teacher like Jim, who challenged my thinking and beliefs - I might have gained more than just memorising the births and deaths of English kings and queens, along with a few, key British battles.

Despite the personal cost and distress that this case no doubt brought to Dr Corbett, it has high value in highlighting the agenda of the Xian Taliban - to silence criticism and dissent of their Bronze Age mythology. Anyone that recognises the importance of truth over dogma and ideology should be on their guard against it.

Don't let the [£*&$^!] grind you down, Jim!
Gordono:

"You were utterly insensitive the lack of balance of power that exists between teacher and student. You could have stimulated thought and discussion without browbeating your charges."

If there's one thing Queen Gordon knows, and believe me, there is only one thing he knows, it's how to stimulate his students! Of course, he likes to be the one who is browbeaten.
See, I like to look at these things as if I were on the receiving end of an authority figure who claimed that my own beliefs were "superstitious nonsense." If it would be unfair that way, then it's unfair even when I agree (i.e., even when they are right).
This isn't a Free Speech issue, it's a science issue. Science class is for the discussion and teaching of science, not mythological hokus-pokus made up a few years ago by backward-thinking, puritanical, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing rednecks (the irony being that, once again, it is the Southern, evangelical Christians who demonstrate evolution -or in their case devolution- for all to see).

See, "Creationism" IS Superstitious Nonsense and is only fit for discussion among snake-handling evangelicals and musket-militias. This is the 21st Century, not the middle ages, so howzabout we start to approach our clinging to the invisible-man-in-the-sky with a more rational approach?

"Creationism" is not fit for discussion among thinking, rational individuals with 3-digit IQ's, much less within the walls of any legitimate school because it is nothing but a pack of lies with a political agenda. If you believe in it, you are a fool of Scientological proportions on the order of Tom Cruise and if consider "Creationism" anything less than superstitious nonsense, you are a pathetic political lemming and small-minded spiritual rube devoid of rational thought.

However, if this contributes to the witchcraft-fearing, ignorance-is-good, Palin er...mentality (for lack of a better word) currently gripping and marginalizing the GoP, then maybe it's a (dare I say it?) blessing in disguise. If it makes the GoP look bad, it's a good thing.

Maybe eventually they'll learn to ACT like Christians instead of using the Bible as a license to hate.
Excellent post, very even-handed in light of what must have been a very trying experience for you. I look forward to the ensuing discussion, and I hope you stick around to write more on OS.
Unfortunately the joke may be on us who comment here, as the author shows with his silence he has little interest in opinions other than his own, thus ironically bolstering his detractor’s complaints.

So I offer my view to those commenting here: what bothers me most about this debate is professor Corbett actually demonstrates a very simplistic view of the issue. Even a basic understanding of philosophy and theology would conclude that, by any rational definition of "God," to say that God would not also be the creator of science and evolution is simply not logical. This means creationism is far from being a myth but that science is more likely one of the myths: because what we see as science is just one of infinite ways that God could have created the universe. To believe that the painting painted itself and there was no painter is the “myth” this professor insists that we believe.
I think people need to distinguish here between a teacher encouraging critical thought and a teacher (and thereby, by proxy, the government) expressing a "disapproval of religion". Clearly the former is desired. The latter is not.

The key point is this is not about WHAT he was teaching but HOW.

I don't think anyone here is saying we don't want teachers to encourage critical thinking and to make students question things.

The issue is whether corbett is creating an environment where students feel that their religious beliefs are being mocked and disparaged.

As much as everyone loves to pull out their "free-thinking" creds here, I think the main point that's being missed is that it is simply not possible to teach someone to think differently if they think you're mocking them.

I just don't think it should be that hard to question without mocking and disparaging.
Dana: I get it that Corbett is unnecesarrily insulting and abrasive. But you are pleading that religious beliefs should be somehow treated with kid gloves. For example, if Corbett had said "Global Warming is just superstitious nonsense", or "Supply-side economics is superstitious nonsense"- I am sure there wouldn't even be a court case. If Corbet says "Louis the 16th was a moron" nobody would bat an eyelid. Yet if he says "Jesus was a moron", all hell would break loose. In short you are arguing that we could talk about anyone and anything under the sun using any tone we want, excet when it comes to 'the pantheon'- whereupon we must speak carefully, lest we offend the Mullahs and the madrassa Students.
Edit: detractors'
@ icemilkcoffee: we don't have a Constitutional amendment protecting global warming, supply-side economics or Louis XVI. For better or worse, we do have one protecting religious belief. And that makes a real-world difference.
After reading your post and statement made in court, I can see why you would have been sued and lost. Be honest you did not want to challenge your captured listeners who are under your authority granted to you by the state, you wanted to proselytize your world view and belittle a person's faith. From your comments if true where beyond challenging question and verged on hate speech.

Fact is creation is a theory and so is evolution. Evolution is taught as fact, but it has never been proven and not all "thinking" men of science agree. But in our intolerant world even an alternate view to evolution is banned from the science community. You may wish to not agree, but as a representative of the state your "religious" view has no place in the class room. I would expect the same results from court if a Baptist preacher used the same tactics in the classroom.

Plus, you have the upper hand, most bullies do. You have a college education your audience has not finished HS. You have been granted authority by the state and have the ability to fail anyone who disagrees with your "opinion or worldview" Your students have no advantage and the idea that you present a level playing field is just as funny as comparing yourself to Socrates.

The door swings both ways. If there is to be no religious expression in the class room then your religious views have no place either. The courts got this one right.

Also, if the law in California on taping others is consistent with the rest of the country taping a public speech does not carry any privacy privileges. Especially since the laws are in favor of the individuals protection not the states.
@icemilkcoffee

To your point about kid gloves. Shouldn't the guiding principal of seperation of church and state also preclude a state educator from stating that a religious belief is "nonsense"? Doesn't that amount to the state taking a position on religious matters?

It's a fine line, but there is a difference between a teacher saying "science says that creationism is wrong" and "I think creationism is nonsense". In the latter case, isn't the teacher acting as a proxy for the government taking a hostile position towards religion?

Frankly, I think the lawsuit is somewhat frivolous. But I just don't think it helps (and it may not be legal) for a state educator to take an actively hostile position towards religion. Just teach the science and leave the opinion to parents.

And BTW - when I say "just teach the science" that doesn't mean that teachers should not encourage questioning and free-thinking. A good teacher should be able to lead a student to form their own opinions and ask their own questions without trying to simply impose their opinion on the student.
Arrogant, abrasive, insulting, a pompous dickhead. And this from a lawyer, someone who should recognize exactly how irrelevant Mr. Corbett's personal style is to the case under discussion.

The only question is whether the comments in question rise to the level of hostility ot religion. As a religious person, I would argue that they clearly do not. Calling one belief-form, such as creationism "superstitious nonsense," is no more hostile to religion tout court or even to a particular religion than praising one Biblical mandate, thou shalt not kill, is an establishment of religion.

I happen to believe in the Biblical view of creation, but of course it is inevitsably liable to the charge of superstition, by the standards of scientific methodology. And any religious faith that doesn't come down in the end to non-sense, has failed to transcend the bounds of rational discourse and hence is not worth its salt qua religious faith.

Finally, in telling Mr. Corbett he is "lucky" to have his job, this same lawyer demonstrates that she knows more than a little something about arrogance.
et tu, libertarius? We might be able to hoist you on your own petard, there.

Look, it was his arrogance that got him sued, not his beliefs. Because of his arrogance he was inartful in his speech and disdainful of the consequences. He got sued, and it was obvious that he would, and he deserved it.

I happen to disagree with the decision and think he will ultimately prevail. But he needlessly and thoughtlessly exposed his school district to suit. He IS lucky to still have his job.

And Socrates??? Please...

I actually completely agree with Jim. One hundred percent. I think he is right on the money in every statement he made.

But it was stupid and arrogant and careless of him to do it the way he did. He was asking for it. Maybe he didn't deserve it, but he knew or should have known the risks of his behavior. Like walking into 7-11 at 2am in the bad part of town, and leaving your Mercedes running, with the door open and the stereo blasting, and then being shocked!, shocked, I tell you! when it gets stolen.
Illuminating post. I've always thought that I could take my MA in Political Philosophy and Constitutional Law and $2.00 and buy a up of coffee at Denny's. Maybe that's why I've never taught high school.
Wow, change the metaphor ever so slightly there Dana and you have Bill O'Reilly on rape victims. He asked for it? If Mr. Corbett was right on the law then there is no justification for suing him, certainly not for his personal mien. Did you ever read Camus' The Stranger? Your argument has already been incribed as a monument of legal absurdity.
Easy now, Paul (sic). One myth is as dangerous as another. I am philosophically attuned to your argument, however, would that you think of the value of myth, rather than vehemently maintain your own form of dogma, and your argument may attract even more.

There is a sore-needed, new (though always repetitive) understanding of myth: that unnameable something which pulls us to more than dogma or even, yes, observational analysis. I do not mean to put the cart before the horse; thinking happens to be a rare commodity throughout cultures.

The social will always fear the individual. On the other hand the individual will always challenge the accepted social. I am not naive. I fully appreciate the courage of your actions and applaud all the kids who are changed because of you.

I am convinced there is another way, regardless of the total lack of evidence to support my conviction. I am likewise convinced the human race will never choose it. Ignorance is a comfortable luxury. Laws are passed to protect the ignorant. The ignorant serve society. I sometimes envy the ignorant; they appear less troubled, more certain. You are not ruined, apart from dying to one aspect of your life and ressurecting upon another. There are no choices, merely informed glimpses of fate.
Dana Douglas,

Read the Socratic dialogues, and not just the ones recorded by Plato. Socrates was, even by his own account, an arrogant ass. So what? That's what it took in Athens to point out the sheer idiocy of some of the institutions and beliefs he critiqued. Read Airstophanes "The Clouds" and realize that the and thinker lampooned therein is Socrates.

Jim Corbett,

You're appealing, yeah? I mean, how can the court rule that the "Peloza Comment" doesn't meet the Lemon test but that the "Scientific Reasoning and the Bible" passes the Lemon test? Contrast the two statements:

"But there is more to the statement: Corbett states an unequivocal belief that creationism is “superstitious nonsense.” The Court cannot discern a legitimate secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context. The statement therefore constitutes improper disapproval of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause."

"Therefore, no creation, unless you invoke magic. Science doesn’t
invoke magic. If we can’t explain something, we do not uphold that
position. It’s not, ooh, then magic. That’s not the way we work.
Contrast that with creationists. They never try to disprove
creationism. They’re all running around trying to prove it. That’s
deduction. It’s not science. Scientifically, it’s nonsense."

In one utterance, the statement that creationism is "superstitious nonsense" fails the lemon test and the statement "scientifically, it's (creationism is) nonsense." Those two statements are remarkably similar, so that any reasonable reader would infer that they are informed by the same thought. the context of the second quote reveals that your mindest sees science opposed by "superstitious nonsense."

I guess Selman is taking lessons on how to apply the law from Jay Bybee.
Now I'll play devil's advocate...

Evolution via natural selection could itself be considered a scientific myth. It's definitely one of the sacred cows of science, but even these days, more and more scientists are questioning whether natural selection alone, could drive evolution. These scientists aren't arguing for a god to be put into the equation, but rather believe there is some other physical, biological driver behind the development of different species.

The Big Bang - another scientific myth. It hasn't been proven.

Newtonian Physics - a useful construct, but even that is coming under fire since it can't be resolved with quantum physics.

String Theory - it hardly even qualifies as a theory since there is no realistic way to prove or disprove it, or even tests that can be done to attempt to verify parts of it.

Frankly, I think science has as many myths as religion it's just that scientists and religious nuts prefer different kinds of fruitcake.
You chose to disparage religious belief, and the court agreed with the plaintiff that in one instance, you had. Your job as a teacher is to educate and challenge, not disparage and offend your students' religious beliefs. It is apparent from your posted 'outrage' that you are much more troubled that someone finally caught you on tape, than you are that you might have crossed the line somewhere.

And if you lose your teaching job, I am not going to consider it a loss.
"Something I would expect to happen in Texas not California."

I live in Texas and I assure you what happened in this classroom hasn't happened here, unchecked, in over a decade. Why? Because it was here that the Separation of Church and State Supreme Court Case was decided in the "Prayer" case several years ago. School officials in Texas, especially, are highly sensitive to the types of statements you made in your class.

Last year, an Islamic group was allowed in by a local principal and the entire student body of junior high students were required to attend. It was touted as an assembly on "bullying." What it turned out to be was concrete and demonstrative instruction, during class time on Islamic religious practices. No way is that allowed in this state of any religion in the public school system.

The thing that lost your case was not that you were teaching or trying to cultivate upper level thinking in your students. Religion can be taught in public schools....as literature. What a teacher can NOT do is proselytize to captive students.

By referring to any religion as 'superstitious nonsense', you, in effect, were attempting to get the students to believe what you believe, aka, proselytizing. That's why the court ruled against that statement in particular.

If a hard-core, Bible-thumping, Calvinistic teacher (or district) were to purport the same things directly or indirectly about any other religion, including Atheism, then the entire district would be under the gun as well and has been.

Rated. Excellent writing of lessons to be learned.
@Norwonk

Science and Religion don't have to be in contention. Thor, or Hepaestos, or the Thunder God of your choice does it exactly the same way--atmospheric convection. It is all a matter of how you seize the moment, and if you are creative enough to explain the phenomenon without trashing their mythos in the process.
Doesn't the very word "educate" mean, "to lead out," or "to lead away?"

Keep leading!
Christianity and science are very different Aaron. But so are Christianity and creationism. One can be a Christian and believe in evolution. Consult the teachings of the Catholic church on this matter, or the anglican church for that matter. One can even believe in divine creation, as I do, and disbelieve in creationism. That is because creationism, strictly speaking, is not a belief in the divine creation per se or even the Biblical account of creation, whether metaphorically or literally understood. Creationism is the belief that some version of divine creation or the biblical account thereof is a SCIENTIFICALLY viable explanation of the world's origins. To attack creationism, strictly considered, is not to express hostility to Christianity or any other religion that holds with divine creation. It is not hostile, as such, to religion at all--that is, unless one wanted to say that it is hostile to making a religion of the scientific viability of religious thought. And even if the latter describes a certain religious attitude all too prevalent in the US, it in fact describes no formalized religious belief system. The decision against Corbett attests to the sloppy, deeply un-rigorous state of legal thought in this country.
Aaron,

It's interesing that you suggest religion has not changed, and use a specific type of religion (Christianity) as your example.

Actually religion is continually changing. New views on god are continually popping into existence, going out of style, or evolved in one way or another. And there are tons of different religions around the world.

Not only that, but there are tons of different types of Christianity.

Not only that, but even Christianity has changed A LOT over the last couple of hundred years. If you took almost any Christian from today and put them back into Europe in the middle ages they would be considered a heretic by the prevailing religious authorities.

And what about the New Age movement? That, for better or worse, certainly represents a "change" in religious thought.

I'm guessing that in your mind you have built up a religious "straw man".

Also, one of the biggest knocks on String Theory is that THERE IS NO WAY TO TEST IT. Many scientists have argued that it isn't really even a scientific theory because of that - you can't make a hypothesis and then perform an experiment to see if your hypothesis is true. Most attempts at conceiving of a test start out with "Suppose you had a particle accelerator the size of our galaxy..."
@Helen -

The Latin root of "educate" is "educere," and implies more to "draw out" of students, enabling them to make and cement their own rational cognitive connections.
"the difference between string theory and creationism is that one can be tested and the other cannot."

Well, this of course is the common exclaim of science which is actually to misunderstand the nature of religion and is why the teacher in question is actually very close-minded in his belief system. What those who hold this view must discount is personal revelation, not just throughout history but in the present day. That’s fine but it should be done with the understanding that if one wants to use the "superstitious nonsense" label, people of faith could just as easily use it in response to scientists who claim God could not prove His existence to someone.

Science has something the religion lacks completely, the ability to change our interpretation of reality.

God, being perfect, doesn't change. What does change is our understanding of or our relationship with God. So to the religious person the changing is in the direction of greater understanding of actual reality, as opposed to what the scientific community could be said to do: swap one conceptual box for another.
Thanks Dana. I knew that there was another side to this argument than was being presented. Thank you Mr. Corbett for not taking her comments down.

Denese
I don't have time to read all the comments, but I see that some of my points have already been made. Jim, a link to an article of some sort (such as the LA Times or the OC Weekly) would have brought the rest of us up to speed without having to figure it out for ourselves.

And, even though I'm an atheist, I agree with the judge. Just as there should be no PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS praising one religion over all others, there should also be no PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS denigrating any or all religions. It's all the same First Amendment to me.

As for the comments about being illegally tape-recorded, was that not covered in the trial? It seems to me that if the tape were really illegally obtained, the judge would have thrown it out. Are you pursuing that as an appeal?

Finally, I can never resist playing Devil's Advocate, even against myself. I already said I agreed with the judge, given that this was a public high school and you are its agent. But, should the answer be different if this is an ELECTIVE class? I assume AP courses are not required? If it is a class that the student is not required to take, does that change the perspective? I don't know. Because then the question becomes, what about public, state-funded UNIVERSITIES? Does the same argument apply there? Why or why not?
"Convicted of insulting religion? I thought that sort of thing only happens in fundamentalist islamic countries."

Except that if he had made such comments in a fundamentalist Islamic country, be wouldn't be alive today to post this blog...
Having come to this post a bit later, I feel as though I am echoing some others' statements.

"A true believer does not fear that a few questions can undo years of parental teaching. Those who would "protect" students from self-examination have little faith and great fear."

These are brilliant words - ones which I wish were repeated more often. Unlike many responses, I do not feel that you were disparaging religion (especially as I was uncertain regarding how Creationism is its own religion) but rather that you were encouraging students to challenge their own held notions. Critical thinking, I'm afraid, is as unpopular as ever. This can have tragic consequences.
Here's a thought. Maybe if we privatize the school systems then no one has to waste their time on any lawsuits and any arguing about the lawsuits because none of these constitutional issues will apply since the government wouldn't be in the school business. People can pick the schools they want to go to based on the curriculum they like. If parents are smart enough to decide what doctors their kids go to, they should also be smart enough to pick which school to send them to.

Too easy to even try.
One other thing: Nietzsche made an interesting argument that Socrates deserved his hemlock.
Always thought the best way to address Creationism was to teach all the creation myths with equal fervor, from Baime to Ishtar.

A contrarian thumb for you.
Another thought exercise: What if Corbett had said "Creationism is an amalgam of various Mesopotamian orign myths with no basis in scientific facts"- would that be acceptable? I am sure it would be by anyone's standard. How is that any different than say "Creationism is superstitious nonsense"? Other than that the latter is easy enough to understand that even a christian moron knows to be insulted by it.
We are sliding down a slippery slope where we are arguing over what polite wordings we have to use to tip-toe around the believers' fragile egos. When the only argument we should be allowed to have is: Is what Corbett teaching supported by best available evidence?
Dr. Corbett,

The court made the correct decision. Had you presented a logical case in favor of your views and left it at that, you wouldn't have been called out for your inane proselytizing. Instead, you chose to abuse the teacher/student relationship by pompously ridiculing one of your student's beliefs. Whether the belief is right or wrong is irrelevant; it's the means by which you chose to address the belief -- that's the problem. That you have difficulty realizing this speaks louder about your intelligence than anything you just posted.

And please: never compare yourself to Socrates.

Thanks.
"Creationism" isn't a religion. It's a stillborn right-wing agenda conceived by ignorance and superstition, and paraded around on a stick like some sick little trophy won at the County Fair from Hell. I think anybody, especially a teacher, who DOESN'T question - even belittle the very premise of creationism - should have their head examined. As for anybody who actually believes it - you would have my sympathy if you weren't so willfully ignorant and societally malevolent.
I think what most of the posters that are saying he should have never called creationism "superstitious nonsense" are failing to recognize is that CREATIONISM IS SUPERSTITIOUS NONSENSE and you would not want any one who believes other wise to teach your children. To tell a child that creationism has any basis in fact or reality is down right irresponsible religious brainwashing, to tell them is fact mumbo jumbo people made up by people 2000 years ago by people who still thought the world is flat. Just because some easily brainwash religious nutbag believes that god wants you to kill everyone that has a P in their name doesn't mean we should be sueing people who tell our children that its a bad idea. Quite the opposite in fact, I dare one of you to bring one shred of scientific proof that creationism is not superstitious nonsense when that happens this sham of a case will have had merit.
dana, you essentially seem to be saying that corbett was wrongfully prosecuted here:

"I happen to disagree with the decision and think he will ultimately prevail. But he needlessly and thoughtlessly exposed his school district to suit. He IS lucky to still have his job."

is that what you meant? additionally, you said that religious views were constitutionally protected, and i hope to god that isn't true.

"we don't have a Constitutional amendment protecting global warming, supply-side economics or Louis XVI. For better or worse, we do have one protecting religious belief. And that makes a real-world difference."

what you seem to be saying is that religious people can have these arguments with secular administrators with impunity, and the secularist is simply lucky if they don't get fired, even though they've broken no law by having a belief that is not championed by a religious institution. is that what free exercise means?

can you explain how your comments all hang together? that isn't really true is it?
Anybody who ever dares to compare themselves to Socrates would at least have to be familiar with elementary logic and critical thinking. That leaves Corbett out. What many of the people here apparently fail to recognize is that whether creationism is true or false is not the primary problem. Grant that it's false. The issue is the way in which Corbett chose to go about ridiculing his student's beliefs. He clearly crossed the line and the court made the right decision.
So phil, if some one came into his class from and said the Moon is made of green cheese and he said that was nonsense he could be sued but only if the kids parents believed it too?
@Phil Black,

Well that lets you out of any comparison to Socrates. The constitutional "issue" (you know, what the case is about) is not whether Corbett ridiculed his student's opinion or belief, but whether he expressed hostility to religion. Elementary logic shows that Creationism is not a religion. There is no Church of creationism. Nor is Creationism a religious belief. One must believe in divine creation to be a creationist, but believing in divine creation does not make one a creationist. To be a creationist one must hold the religious belief in divine creation to be a scientifically viable theory, and that is not a religious belief but a scientific position. As a scientific position, it can be ridiculed as "superstitious nonsense" without violating the establishment clause of the constitution.
There is no constitutional provision against ridiculing a student's "beliefs", so by the elementary logic you claim to prize, such ridicule could not possibly be "the issue."
bstrangely said: "dana, you essentially seem to be saying that corbett was wrongfully prosecuted here:

""I happen to disagree with the decision and think he will ultimately prevail. But he needlessly and thoughtlessly exposed his school district to suit. He IS lucky to still have his job."

"is that what you meant? additionally, you said that religious views were constitutionally protected, and i hope to god that isn't true.

""we don't have a Constitutional amendment protecting global warming, supply-side economics or Louis XVI. For better or worse, we do have one protecting religious belief. And that makes a real-world difference."

"what you seem to be saying is that religious people can have these arguments with secular administrators with impunity, and the secularist is simply lucky if they don't get fired, even though they've broken no law by having a belief that is not championed by a religious institution. is that what free exercise means?

"can you explain how your comments all hang together? that isn't really true is it?"

------------------

I can try to explain myself, yeah. How well I will do I will leave to you.

I think the decision was flawed. I think there was a potential secular interpretation to the larger comment (not just the two words taken out of context) that should have gotten him past a summary judgment motion. Perhaps he should still have lost at trial, but I think he made enough showing that he should have gotten the chance.

I think he was arrogant in his approach, and needlessly exposed his district to a lawsuit. If I employed him I'd be pissed as hell.

And what we have as far as protecting religious belief is a Constitutional right for all Americans that the government -- whether by law or through a teacher's comments -- shall, to say it in the vernacular, do nothing that would "tend to establish" a particular religion or lack of religion as an official government position. It is mandated that all religious beliefs be afforded equal treatment in the eyes of the government. And that means that Christians have protection from being proselytized at by a government atheist. In short, no government official, acting in his official capacity, can proclaim that any one religion is correct, or any one religion is incorrect.

If he had simply said that creationism had absolutely no factual support, whatsoever, he would have been fine. But calling it "superstitious nonsense" crosses the line, if you believe that his main purpose was to comment on the substance of creationism.

I think he had an argument that the larger context had to do with the place for a creationist article in a discussion about teaching evolution, which is a secular purpose unrelated to the establishment (or debunking) of a particular religion or religion in general.

Yes, we have a Constitutional right to be free from the government telling us that our cherished religious beliefs are "susperstitious nonsense."
Revant, things are a bit more complicated than you let on with your "what if" question. Let me illustrate with a "what if" question of my own: What if a student of yours (supposing you were a teacher) claimed that cows are sacred and that, given the epistemic situation and culture in which she was raised, she firmly believed that cows shouldn't be eaten? How would you react? Would you get up in front of the class, stare down your nose at her, and dismiss her belief as "superstitious nonsense"? No. And nor would most people. (Except for the Corbetts of this world.)

Yet, we can both agree that beliefs according to which cows are sacred are probably false.

The point is this: regardless of whether a particular belief is true or false, if you're find yourself in culture X and the belief is treated with seriousness for centuries by the inhabitants of culture X, you should have some intellectual tact before you snobbishly declare to those inhabitants that what they belief is "nonsense."

Apparently Corbett doesn't realize this, but there are other ways to get your students to think past their traditions, to think critically, besides calling their views "superstitious nonsense." The issue is precisely the way in which Corbett went about addressing his student. The actual truth-value of the belief is not at issue.

If Corbett lived in 450 BC, he'd be right there with Miletus condemning Socrates. As a Greek monotheist who was open to the divine, Socrates had exactly the sort of beliefs that Corbett would dismiss as "superstitious nonsense."
I'd just like to correct one impression that some of you may have. Chad never once spoke in my class. He never indicated that he was offended. He never questioned. Had he made clear that he was offended, I certainly would not have said anything that would single him out in any way.
furthermore my comments were not about "creationism." I was commenting on the teaching of John Peloza, a biology teacher at my school who was teaching a version of "creation science" in which one assignment was for students to provide scientific evidence that the earth could be "very young" and created complete with fossils no more than 7,000 years ago. Finally, I did compare my case with Socrates. I did not compare myself with Socrates, although I do have a beard, fairly quick tongue, and a pot belly.
Libertarius,

Well having taught propositional and predicate logic as well as probability calculus and nonstandard systems for some time now, I should warn you to stop pretending to speak about logic until you can properly avoid filling your comments with fallacies. Your wordplay on the term 'creationism', for example, is a textbook case of the informal fallacy of ambiguity.

It could mean many things. But in the socio-religious context under consideration (you know, the one that mattered court), creationism was clearly part of the student's set of religious convictions. Of course, in other contexts, 'creationism' might simply denote the religiously neutral belief that a God of some sort or another is responsible for the existence of our universe. Good thing we have courts who take the time to investigate the relevant contextual implications.
And now, Jim, we will correct one impression that you have. You are actually not at all like Socrates. Socrates valued critical thinking and logic; he didn't smugly sit back and dismiss his interlocutors by calling their views "superstitious nonsense."
You want to persist in claiming that I called Chad's views "superstitious nonsense." I did not. He was not an "interlocutor;" he never spoke in class. I really don't mind reasoned discussion about the case, but you seem to have a mind set that disposes against the facts of this matter.
Phil:

Perhaps you think that every teacher should pole students on the first day of class about what might offend them, so as to avoid offense? It is, I hope you agree, difficult to determine what might be offensive when a student never indicates that he has an opinion one way or the other. What other "creationist" views should consider? Man from an ear of corn? Mud on the back of a giant turtle? Cargo cults from Irian Barat? Where would this end?
Yes, we have a Constitutional right to be free from the government telling us that our cherished religious beliefs are "susperstitious nonsense."

...which I assume means, in practice, that in public school classrooms no belief whatsoever can be referred to as superstitious nonsense, because there's always the possibility that it may be part of the belief system of some religion. I hadn't thought of that implication until browsing through this thread.
"Finally, I did compare my case with Socrates. I did not compare myself with Socrates,"

Nonsense. In Socrates' case, he intellectually engaged his interlocutors in a philosophically responsible setting and encouraged them to think for themselves, using reason and logic. In your case, you dogmatically ridiculed your student's belief with little or no rational dialog.

As an educator, you should be a bit more discerning.
Final note then I've got work to do:

My friend, Michael Merrifield, teaches a class at the local Junior College (officially part of the California Secondary system). The class is entitled, "Magic, Religion and Witchcraft." His point is that there is no scholarly-definitional difference among those belief systems. Why the heck hasn't he been sued? His class is as voluntary as mine.
you persist. I DIDN'T KNOW HE HAD ANY BELIEFS AT ALL. MY GOAL, IF YOU READ MY POST WAS TO GET STUDENTS TO GO HOME WITH SOMETHING TO DISCUSS WITH THEIR PARENTS. I SPECIFICALLY DID NOT TRY TO ENGAGE THEM IN CLASS BECAUSE THESE ISSUES ARE TOO SENSITIVE FOR MANY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS TO DISCUSS IN PUBLIC WITHOUT INHIBITION. GOOD NIGHT.
C0rbett:

First, that you didn't look the student directly in the face and say "you!" (pointing), "you're belief in a creator god is superstitious nonsense" is irrelevant. You ridiculed a student's religious conviction that is deeply held and widely shared by many others our society (rightly or wrongly)-- and unless you've been living in a cave for the last several decades, you should know this.

"Perhaps you think that every teacher should pole students on the first day of class about what might offend them, so as to avoid offense? It is, I hope you agree, difficult to determine what might be offensive when a student never indicates that he has an opinion one way or the other. What other "creationist" views should consider? Man from an ear of corn? Mud on the back of a giant turtle? Cargo cults from Irian Barat? Where would this end?"

This point (if one could call it that) was already addressed. Suppose, given the epistemic situation and culture in which you were teaching, a student firmly believed that cows shouldn't be eaten? Perhaps she suspected a distant relative of hers might be reincarnated as a cow? Perhaps some of her teachers shared these views. Taking it a step further, perhaps a good number of people this culture also felt this way. How would you react? Would you get up in front of the class and in front of all your students dismiss this as "superstitious nonsense"? No. And nor would most people.

Yet, we can both agree that beliefs according to which cows are sacred are probably false.

The point is this: regardless of whether a particular belief is true or false, if you find yourself in culture X and the belief is treated with seriousness for centuries by the inhabitants of culture X, you should have some intellectual tact before you snobbishly declare to those inhabitants that what they believe is "nonsense."
I agree! The primary responsibility of any teacher, regardless of content area IS to teach students to think, to question, and to come to their own conclusions, not to simply become mindless robots who follow the crowd. I hope this incident will not push you to shy away from what makes teaching, not only challenging, but rewarding.

Our civic religion has taken a place of such mythic proportion that few are willing to challengeit. However, challenge it, we must. A true patriot does not follow his country, right or wrong, but stands up to tyranny wherever it is found; points to the wrongs, the sins of his/her nation, not to berate, but to shed light on the darkness and bring about change.

Great post!
Should the views of some Christians be treated with greater care than those of the Wiccans, Buddhists, Muslims, Bahai, and others in my class? How much study do you think I should do to make sure I don't offend? Does the view of a significant Christian minority deserve a "special" place?
Corbett, the thing many people here have been trying to point out to you (but which seems to continue falling on deaf ears) is that there are other, more intellectually productive ways to get your students to think critically about some contemporary controversy or another. We could agree 'til we're blue in the face that creationism is unscientific and wrong. That's not the problem. What you're missing is this: you don't get up in front of your students, many of whom (you should know) are likely to take such beliefs seriously, and say the things you said as a public educator funded by taxpayers. You clearly made a poor decision here.

The fact that you raise absurd alternatives like "polling every student" goes to show that you aren't thinking clearly about this. You strike me as an extremist. Nobody is asking you to start polling every student. You're just being asked to create an atmosphere where students can critically adjudicate important issues without having to fear that their convictions will be mocked in front of everyone. It's not that hard, believe me.
"Should the views of some Christians be treated with greater care than those of the Wiccans, Buddhists, Muslims, Bahai, and others in my class? How much study do you think I should do to make sure I don't offend? Does the view of a significant Christian minority deserve a "special" place?"

Again, Corbett, you're resorting to needless extremism. It's really quite simple. To the same extent that you shouldn't ridicule the held by your Christian student, you should likewise not ridicule the beliefs that may be held by your Muslim, Wiccan, Buddhist, etc., students. Nobody is asking that you give Christian beliefs special privileges. If a Wiccan believes that love spells work, there are other ways to get her to question such a conviction besides announcing (in front of all her peers) that it's "superstitious nonsense." Come on, Corbett. This can't be that difficult to understand.
We do have a civil religion. It is a simple religion, and one with roots older than Christianity. Our version of it affirms 3 a priori rights, and one 'sin", if you will - intolerance.
Creationism or is an element of a religious belief, and to call it superstitious nonsense in that setting is an expression of official intolerance, no matter if you were addressing the religion, or the belief being taught as science.

As far as the courts go, that depends on precedent, but as far as the basis of those laws - religious toleration for the sake of a peaceful society - you sorta stepped off into it.

I notice they threw a lot on the wall, but only got this one to stick. They were a bit lucky in light of their overdone efforts, but they managed to find a witch in this witch hunt.
If my kids weren't harming anybody by having deep religious convictions (be they Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Wiccan, or whatever) and Corbett started dogmatically ridiculing those convictions in front of their peers, I'd probably consider suing him as well. (At the very least, I'd encourage the kids to speak out against such intolerance.) In any case, what Corbett did is definitely NOT how you get students to think critically. It's actually a huge disservice to them because you create more division and hostility rather than logical evaluation.

As much as I reject the the Christian right and creationism, I do think the court made the right decision in this case. Corbett is free to challenge his students to explore alternative viewpoints, but pompously dismissing their convictions as "superstitious nonsense" is not a way to do that.

This is in no way analogous to Socrates' case; it is embarrassing that Corbett even brought that up.
Unfortunately, Jim, a review of your comments indicates that you still don't get it. Don't be surprised if you get sued again.
And Jim, you are not the victim, here. The school district is. You are one of the perps in a gang turf war.

I agree with you in substance. But you are dead wrong in your approach.
Well Mr. Black,

Since I teach literature, philosophy and critical theory, including jurisprudential theory, I think you should stop pretending to know anything about the contextual nuances of which you speak. Creationism is not a religious belief, not simply a belief in the divine creation of the universe. There is no ambiguity here whatsoever, so no fallacy based on ambiguity, just a reductionist failure of the l0gic you claim to profess--doubtless badly. The belief in a divine creation has existed for milennia. Creationism is a recent creation developed in response to the theory of evolution, as both a criticism and an alternative. As such it is a scientific position, i. e. a position that makes scientific truth-claims, and has no protection by the establishment clause of the constitution. That you cannot seem to understand the simple distinction between a belief in divine creation and creationism, that you apparently don't even understand that it is a distinction, not an ambiguity, suggests that it is you, not Mr. Corbett, who should not be trusted with students.
Comparing a Hindu belief in sacred cows is dead wrong, he's teaching history unless I'm mistaken. Telling children that the dinosaurs and people walked on the earth at the same time is a valid view point because some people believed that is what happened is irresponsible and the opposite of what a teacher is supposed to do. When the teaching of the actual history of the world conflicts with some ones superstitions is a teacher to imply that carbon dating is "suedo-science" by giving myth's credit? People are allowed to have beliefs if some one thinks a cow is sacred no ones going to make them eat one but it is superstitious nonsense...

It is simply fact that creationism is superstitious nonsense acting like that is insulting to some one is ridiculous. If they choose to stick their head in the sand shouting lalalalala every time some one spends some time coming up with scientific evidence to the contrary, that's their own choice, but that doesn't change the fact that its a fairy tale.
You are not bashing religion when you call it superstitious nonsense, religion is superstition that is not based in fact. It should be the schools job to reinforce that fact if anything, if you want to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter bunny you should be free to do so but it has no place in a public learning institution. If you want your children's teachers to pretend anything in the outside world that conflicts with what ever your hocus pocus belief is send them to a private religious school.
What Libertarius wrote, so much better than I could ever write it. Thanks, not that it will dissuade Phil or any of the rest from simply claiming what they wish about what I've said or not said, and responding to their fabrications. Ah well.

This is my first time in (on) a blog, so forgive me for violating manners, if I have.
This is an important concern and I would like to know if it is ok with you if I linked you up where my Indian friends can find you too. rated.
"There is no greater gift teachers can give to students than to teach them to think" - YES, YES, YES. America is a strange country!
It is terrifying that it is happening in America, all third world free thinkers tend to migrate here because we believe this to be the land where one can BE what God and Nature had designed for an individual to be! This is almost like the BJP drive in India to push us to the retro mode. Am deeply concerned.
What a fantastic treat this has been! I came here for a little nightcap only to discover a whole meal, what with the post and prolific, impassioned, informed, and unusually literate comments. I do so love a fight among intellectuals!

I find myself nodding in agreement with everybody, even the contradictory comments! Drinks on the house! I think there are two different things going on--the legal thing and the teaching thing. I think legally there really shouldn't be a case, although of course anyone can sue anyone for anything. But I agree with those who say Corbett's personal style really has nothing to do with the legal issue at hand. As usual, I find libertarius's arguments persuasive and really hadn't considered the distinction bt creationism and Christian fundamentalism, but as he describes it I'm struck by the distinction's obviousness.

Dana, too, makes a compelling case but hers is all about pragmatism. She's a school board's dream. Go along to get along. Don't do anything to make waves. It's true that certain personalities inspire lawsuits but where Dana and I disagree is that where the school board may find the political incorrectness of Corbett reckless in its risk of lawsuit, I find that attitude typical of the proceduralism rampant in schools today, where nobody can take a stand on anything for fear of getting sued or causing attention. I think that's precisely the opposite of critical thinking.
"Every year in July, I send a letter home to students who have signed up for my class. Chad admitted under oath that he received that letter. The letter says, in part:

"Most days we will spend a few minutes (sometimes more) at the beginning of class discussing current events from either The Orange County Register or the L.A. Times. I may also use material from a variety of news Web sites. Discussion will be quite provocative, and focus on the 'lessons' of history. My goal is to have you go home with something that will provoke discussion with your parents. Students may offer any perspective without concern that anything they say will impact either my attitude toward them or their grades. I encourage a full range of views."

I included my home phone number and e-mail address in that letter and encouraged parents to contact me if they had any concerns. Chad admitted under oath that my lectures prompted many discussions with his parents. I might add, that in 20 years in the CUSD, I have never had a complaint filed against me, save this one." ..... "why didn't they simply come to me and ask me to explain my comments? "

WHY SHOULD WE NOT TAKE THIS FOR TRUTH? Why a Law Suit against a Teacher WHO NEITHER INJURED/ABUSED/ SHOWED DISRESPECT towards his student's views? What does this attitude of citizens reflect upon who we are as people, as responsible adults? Why do we need to make an issue out of this without paying heed to or respecting what the Teacher is saying about what he did, meant to do or not do? By continuing with the Law suit are we not showing disregard for the defendant's statement?

Are we not setting fear in the heart of weaker teachers? As it is teachers are these days scared the world over, underpaid, and repressed. Would this incident not further harm the Teacher's position in society?

What good are we doing to our children with this REALLY? If we really cared about our children, would we threaten and insult his Teachers?!!!
thanks for replying, dana. i wanted to clarify what i was asking. you said:
"we don't have a Constitutional amendment protecting global warming, supply-side economics or Louis XVI. For better or worse, we do have one protecting religious belief. And that makes a real-world difference."

we do have a constitutional amendment protecting speech: you're implying that certain content is given preferential treatment.

is that true? i had always presumed that we were all entitled to equal protection for expression under the first amendment, and you seem to be saying that religious people actually get extra rights that i cannot enjoy. is that really the case?

thanks again for your first response. i did not phrase that well, and i hope i expressed myself better this time.
A point which has not been made is that the class in question is an AP class. An Advanced Placement class is a college level class taught in High School. In other words, this is not the 'repeat after me' type of 3 R's classes. If an AP class is a college level class, then the instructor should have the freedom to be expressing a controversial point of view (actually the viewpoint that 'creationism is superstitious nonsense' is not in the least controversial among scientists). A student taking a college level class should have the expectation that his beliefs (and everything else) are open to challenge.
Anyone who wants to censor what an instructor can say in a college classroom is going back on our 100+ years of academic freedom and taking after the worst elements of this world.
I would've loved having you as a teacher in high school. Children and teenagers should be challenged and stimulated to think and debate.

And as for intimidating the poor dears - oh please. The world is a tough and often unfair place. If we mollycoddle them before adulthood how on earth are they supposed to cope once they're out in the big bad world?

I'm not advocating harshness, ridicule or a lack of empathy. What I am advocating is exposing children to the wealth of information that is out there and then encouraging them to think about what they take in. Debate does not have to equal intolerance.

The few teachers I had who expected their students to think and debate, the ones who demanded high standards from us - those are the ones I remember most fondly. Coincidentally (or maybe not) those teachers were also the ones who consistently treated their students with respect and empathy.
Like Socrates, it seems that the only "crime" committed here was that you "made people think". I better start seeking asylum somewhere. I'm guilty as charged. Thank you for making me feel that I am in some very good company. Rated.
Please tell me this is fiction.
If, instead of having a class where creationism was questioned, what if the class had been about the questioning of science, instead? Would people who are angry here feel the same? Can you turn the incident around and see it from that other perspective?

Here is a theory, and I look forward to any thought on it at all.

I think that the teacher was sued, not because of his teaching ability, not because of his approach to creationism, not because of his purported disrespect to the students' beliefs, please, that's ridiculous, but because he is perceived as a threat among a small group of people, who believed themselves, for a very long time, to be a majority and who were treated like the majority for many years by the country.

Coddled and convinced that they had the moral right on their side, they overlooked, on a regular basis, any opinion other than their own and also hold a great suspicion/dislike of science and the scientific method.

This is not about creationism/science per se. Nothing the teacher did was illegal. Nothing here is worth suing anyone over, firing anyone over or anything else. It's about a power struggle between people who believe we live in a Christian nation and therefore support teaching Creationism, which is a Christian doctrine, in the classroom and between people who believe we live in a nation of religious freedom and that we should be teaching critical thinking, the importance of challenging and testing all belief systems.

As a teacher, I can tell you as well, my students hear about 30% of what I'm actually saying. I make it a practice not to reveal my religious/political/etc. beliefs in class at first, in order to get the students thinking. I take completely different positions throughout the class, to the point where often a student will say, "Well, what do you believe?!?" in consternation. Then, I say, "Well, it doesn't matter what I think. What matters is what you think. What you believe. And it matter that you test yourself in that way. Challenge your own beliefs, not mine."

And everyone seems to get it. But at the end of every class, in comments from students, IN THE SAME CLASS, I'll get "She was too liberal." AND "She was ridiculously conservative."

This is all a matter of perspective. Thus, a lawsuit is an utter crock of shit as a proposition. The experience here cannot be recreated and the "truth" of the class is that no one will ever really know what happened. It's a waste of the court's time because it is simply about hurt feelings and a fear of a loss of power on the suing party's part.
I am of two minds here. I teach Social Studies at the high school level. Controversy is part of what makes this interesting and captivating to students and myself. Controversy is part and parcel of teaching World History. However, having read the entire case finding (THANKS Dana!), I agree with the court, and believe that Mr. Corbett is on the "slippery slope".

The Peloza comment (about creationism being "religious nonsense") was related to Mr. Corbett denying Peloza, a fellow teacher, a place in the school newspaper, which he, Corbett sponsored, in which to respond to editorials excoriating his creationist teachings. The court found against Mr. Corbett in this instance.

Reading the other comments he made within the context of the court case here, I'd have to say that Mr. Corbett at best lacked tact and was bombastic in regard to his beliefs on "church-state" issues. Referring to "Jesus glasses" causing blindness in the wearer is offensive, but wasn't found to be a violation of the 1st Amendment free exercise clause. Using Mark Twain's quote that indicated that religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool could also be offensive, but was not in violation either.

He also denigrated a student's choice of college because he thought it was not "worthy" because it was a creationist based school. It seems there is an actual attempt by Mr. Corbett to proselytize toward secular or atheistic views. Though I am a humanist by philosophy, a Catholic by birth and a yearning spiritual seeker by avocation...maybe I need to leave some of that at the classroom door?

Many people here speak of science, but Mr. Corbett doesn't TEACH science. He teaches history. Should that make a difference? What do the California state standards say? What does the AP test require?

In my state, Colorado, the state standards for the teaching of history in secondary school state: (Standard 6) "Students know that religious and philosophical ideas have been powerful forces throughout history" AND (Standard 4) "Students understand how science, technology and economic activity have developed, changed and affected societies throughout history" In other words, the state standards for history address BOTH religion and SCIENCE. It does not state that a teacher must move a student from religious to scientific thinking.

Mr. Corbett teaches AP European History, so there is plenty of room to include conflicts between secularism and religion, and the development of scientific ideas. I do wonder, however how much "pushing" is required of a teacher. I teach AP World History, and I don't find my level of bombast approaches Mr. Corbett's. Since AP World includes Asia, I teach of Hinduism, Jainism, Gandhi, Zoroaster, Mithras and the Greek myths as well as development of Montheism (all three major monotheistic religions as well as some minor ones). I wouldn't call any of them "nonsense".

Does Mr. Corbett's freedom of speech trump any given student's freedom of religion? They are both first amendment rights. I can't speak for California, but Colorado state standards clearly place equal emphasis upon the influence of both religion AND science in the historical record.

I don't agree with Mr. Corbett's methodologies. The Mark Twain quote was great...but Mr. Corbett's ego seems to have run away with him in some of his statements. Why is it necessary to denigrate students' religious views? Why not let the quite powerful historical record (Twain, Galileo, Newton...whoever!) plant the seeds in the students' heads and get out of the way for a good discussion.

It offends me that he said his student was not his "interlocuter" because he didn't speak. I don't know that I would speak up either...but obviously he was engaged enough to complain to his parents, which is exactly what Corbett indicated he was after in his initial "take home letter" .

Finally, some have indicated that there might be some different standard applied because the class is an "elective"...but the court said this: "The opportunity to 'opt out' does not cure any potential constitutional violation."

I love dialectic and Socratic teaching methods. But sometimes they work best when we get our egos out of the way.
Having read through the court's decision, I think legal precedent could have supported a decision going either way. When only the most controversial of quotes are taken and strung together like that, you read through and it sounds like one long uninterrupted diatribe, but as I understand these are various isolated statements made over the course of a full year, and I'm sure students challenged his opinions from time to time. I'm going to have to disagree with those who feel Dr. Corbett has a disrespectful or abrasive tone about him; I concede that when you read these quotes back-to-back it can certainly sound that way.

As far as the quote in question, I'd like to see whether the appellate court upholds this decision. I think a very good argument can be made that respect for religion does not compel one to pretend that religion is also science. To do so would turn the entire educational purpose on its head.

"Creationism" is a religious concept. It may be a lovely religion. It may be a well-respected religion. It may be a deeply cherished religion. It may bring peace to millions of its believers. All of these things may be true, and as a religion it may be entitled to the protections of the First Amendment, right up to the moment when somebody wants to claim that it's a scientific reality. Science has its own process, and put to the scientific test, creationism fails.

Corbett was asked to explain why it was that he, in his capacity as student advisor to a student newspaper, opposed a science teacher's request to run an article in the student-run newspaper defending his teaching of creationsim as "science". Here's how the court described it:

"Peloza apparently brought suit against Corbett because Corbett was the advisor to a student newspaper which ran an article suggesting that Peloza was teaching religion rather than science in his classroom. ( Id.) Corbett explained to his class that Peloza, a teacher, 'was not telling the kids [Peloza's students] the scientific truth about evolution.' ( Id.) Corbett also told his students that, in response to a request to give Peloza space in the newspaper to present his point of view, Corbett stated, 'I will not leave John Peloza alone to propagandize kids with this religious, superstitious nonsense.” ( Id.) '

There were a few aspects of that remark that the court overlooked, and one of the biggest ones was the fact that he was unwilling to allow Peloza to abuse the student newspaper by using it as a platform to evangelize for Peloza's own religion. In this, the Establishment Clause is on his side. Similarly, he isn't commenting on whether or not creationism is a good or bad religion; he's pointing out that it's not science.

The court could have decided either way, and I suspect they just wanted to throw one decision in the plaintiffs' direction, but I'd wait and see how it does on appeal. If holocaust deniers were to locate somewhere a religious text that supported their point of view, should they really have the right to insist all references to the holocaust be either excised or subjected to qualifiers?

Dr. Corbett, good luck. I'm in north San Diego County, and my daughter's school does not permit her science teacher to discuss human evolution in her seventh-grade science class. If a student raises her hand and asks a question that may ONLY be answered with reference to human evolution, the science teacher may not answer that question. This is ridiculous. The only thing it is teaching these kids is that the school district isn't telling the truth. Knowing their own school authorities are cowed by religious nut jobs gives these kids a sense of power and compromises the effectiveness of anything else the school wants to scold, nanny and lecture about.
bstrangely wrote :
"thanks for replying, dana. i wanted to clarify what i was asking. you said:
"we don't have a Constitutional amendment protecting global warming, supply-side economics or Louis XVI. For better or worse, we do have one protecting religious belief. And that makes a real-world difference."

we do have a constitutional amendment protecting speech: you're implying that certain content is given preferential treatment.

is that true? i had always presumed that we were all entitled to equal protection for expression under the first amendment, and you seem to be saying that religious people actually get extra rights that i cannot enjoy. is that really the case?"


No, if a teacher ridiculed your religious beliefs (or lack of religious beliefs), you would be able to sue also. Teachers working in a public school do not have total free speech. If they did, then a fundamentalist teacher would be allowed to lead prayers at the beginning of each class. Teachers, at the high school level and below, have a captive audience. Their speech is limited due to that fact.
Yes, this teacher went a little too far by calling creationism "superstitious nonsense,"

He most certainly did. Any schoolboy would know the correct term of derision for creationism is "sheer poppycock".
Just FYI...this is an interesting link with suggestions on how to teach "controversy" in the Secondary classroom: http://www.teachablemoment.org/high/teachingcontroversy.html

I LOVE this site. It is definitely a liberal/humanist/secular site, but has really good ideas on all sorts of controversy in the classroom. I find it really far reaching, even-handed and thoughtful.
Mr Corbett,

For whatever reason, you seem inaccessible by PM. Notifying of my blog post (on yours and its critics): St.Anselm, Creationism, and the Establishment Clause.
On further reflection, I find it curious that two legal issues aren't really addressed in the court's opinion.

First, there's the fact that the student who sued had never had never given his teacher any indication that he believed in Creationism. If the court is willing to hold Corbett liable, how does Corbett sheild himself from liability in the future? Is Corbett permitted to ask students about their own religious beliefs at the beginning of the year? Should he respect their privacy but nonetheless make certain assumptions based on the prevailing religion in the area? (Corbett -- if you're reading along -- was this point ever argued in court?) As a side issue, did the age and relative maturity of the student body ever come into play, or the fact that it was an AP course and therefore theoretically being taught at the college level? How did the recordings of your statements come into existence? Most courts dislike contrived lawsuits, and I think a good argument could be made that this student and his parents set out to lure you into a lawsuit. The point being, if it's fair to hold the teacher liable, then how does the teacher insulate himself from liability in the future?

Second, as to the school district's liability: the district itself is named as a defendant, on a vicarious liability theory. I.e., Corbett's "hostile to religion" attitude should have been known to the district. But, the district also hired a creationist science teacher. In other words, the district had hired two teachers, with opposing viewpoints on the question of whether creationism is "science" or "superstitious nonsense". The district made each viewpoint equally available to the students. I find it curious that the plaintiffs cherry-picked the viewpoint they disagreed with and then imputed that to the district, on a vicarious liability theory, notwithstanding the fact that the district had itself presented a balance of ideas.
I am very sorry to hear about the lawsuit. You seem like a terrific teacher and I support your views. That being said, I do think that the pre-scientific mythologies which have interpreted the universe and sustained civilizations for centuries should be treated with respect. They form the historical, psychic foundation from which all modern thought has emerged.
That ruling is an outrage. I hope the school is planning to appeal, and your career won't be ruined by a few litigious fanatics.
@ perdidochas

"Teachers working in a public school do not have total free speech. If they did, then a fundamentalist teacher would be allowed to lead prayers at the beginning of each class. Teachers, at the high school level and below, have a captive audience. Their speech is limited due to that fact."

then why was peloza even attempting to write an editorial about creationism in the school paper?

this is very problematic. what's being discussed is one religious teacher trying to use the student paper to proselytize, another secular teacher refusing, and what the secular teacher says in his refusal becomes actionable under the law?

according to you, this conversation should not have happened at all. according to you, he could have been sued for giving peloza that opportunity:

"Corbett also told his students that, in response to a request to give Peloza space in the newspaper to present his point of view, Corbett stated, “I will not leave John Peloza alone to propagandize kids with this religious, superstitious nonsense.”

again, my concern is that there was no way for corbett to win here, simply because he's not religious. a religious student and a religious teacher had far greater freedom than this person did, and that is frightening to anyone who, like me, has taught a class. this person did not lead a prayer, he just gave an opinion on another teacher's ideas. do religious teachers speak ex cathedra?
Jim Corbett said:
"Chad never once spoke in my class. He never indicated that he was offended. He never questioned. Had he made clear that he was offended, I certainly would not have said anything that would single him out in any way."

This is missing the point. He shouldn't have to tell you he's offended, because you should know better than to say it. Absolutely things would have gone better for you if he had. Or if he and his parents had come to your principal or your school board before filing a lawsuit. But it does not make what you did right. If you touch a student inappropriately and he or she does not complain, that doesn't make it right for you to have done it, or to to keep doing it. And it doesn't mean that he or she can't go directly to the cops.

And it doesn't really matter that you warned students ahead of time that you'd be controversial. If you tell your neighbor you're going to break into their house and steal stuff, that doesn't mean they can't go to the cops and have you arrested. Heck, if you tell the cops you're going to be speeding down the 405 on Thursday afternoon, that just tells them when and where to show up to give you a ticket. A ticket you deserve for breaking the law.

Nor does the fact that you've gotten away with it for 20 years make it legal. It's like the speeding ticket thing. I'm sure many of us (oh, except me, of course!) go over the speed limit lots of times. Occasionally we get a ticket. We consider it the cost of driving the way we do. If we get too many tickets, we might slow down some. We don't necessarily stop speeding. Even though we should, because speeding is against the law. Well, this lawsuit is your cost of teaching the way you do. At this point, you may get more lawsuits, and you may find out that you have been offending people for 20 years and they just weren't brave enough before now to challenge you on it. Or you'll change your ways and never get another lawsuit. Or, you'll keep teaching the same way and never get another lawsuit, because you really haven't been offending most people. Anything could happen.

As for the school district, I disagree with Dana on this one. He has this letter that he sends out to the students ahead of time. Therefore the school district must have known what was going on. I don't think they should be that mad (though if he HADN'T had that letter, I would agree with you). This lawsuit is THEIR speeding ticket just as much as it is his.
That is pathetic! As scientist (biologist) I am appalled ! Rated for courage.
@cypaht - re: "You are there to teach, not question one's person beliefs."

This statement full misconstrues what it means to educate. To be truly educated means to understand something of the vagaries of epistemology. Knowledge - access to it and the perceived value of it - is political and dynamic. There is no real education without challenge; by necessity, education involves discomfort as minds and worldviews and belief systems stretch to accommodate those challenges. When my students must learn something that makes them uncomfortable or with which they disagree, I tell them that at the very least, it's a matter of knowing one's enemy, that linguist John McWhorter got it right when he said that we have no right to a position unless we can argue its opposite.
I don't know the details of your case, but even if the decision was limited to your comment about "superstitious nonsense," this concerns me. While your opinions should not affect your grading, and should not be expressed in a way that disrupts the learning environment, and one has a responsibility to distinguish between one's personal opinion and commonly held views in the discipline, academic freedom protects a teacher's speech, I thought. I fail to see how merely saying this disrupts the learning process. If there is nothing else to the case, then this troubles me. Educators are being attacked in many ways these days. My own college threatened to sue over 100 students, teachers, and staff merely for having personal email account usernames with the letters "SRJC."
Eschew hemlock, good sir. We need you.

Please tell us: you are still employed?

It is absurdum ad infinitum that this judge ruled thus. We are in a race to the bottom of literate, just nations if this continues. Look out Turkey, passing thru; hello Somalia!

I applaud your courage and this post and deeply wish this hadn't happened to you. As far as I am concerned you are a candidate for Teacher of the Year. Hang tough, and keep posting!

(well written, too: cogent, clear, appropriately fierce; your respect for your students -- even this one -- comes thru)
I really have a problem with people who push others away from thinking critically, who denigrate those who ask questions. While I don't believe in bullying people to give up long-held beliefs, I think asking questions and asking that our students (or others answering us) give logical arguments for their beliefs is not wrong. I'm with you in spirit. Keep encouraging your students to ask questions.
I am unaware of the specifics of this case. However I applaud you for standing up to the intellectual terrorism of these provincial boobies. If creationists feel that their beliefs are suitable for the classroom, then we have the right to point out the foolishness of their claim.

However, I typically refrain from making comments such as the one that has apparently got you in trouble. I rarely find it persuasive to call someone's belief "superstitious nonsense," even if it is.

I just tell them that nobody requires them to change their beliefs, but part of the college experience lies in examining and challenging those beliefs.
Mr. Corbett used his lectern as a pulpit from which he persistently attacked religious faith, especially Christianity. He is no Socrates; neither are his anti-religious prejudices challenges to myths much less encouragement to critical thinking. His behavior is an affront to the duty of a teacher to guide students to truth. Three cheers for Chad Farnan, who stood up to this bully and won. If Mr. Corbett wants to keep preaching, let him leave the classroom and find a soapbox on a street corner.
A true believer does not fear that a few questions can undo years of parental teaching. Those who would "protect" students from self-examination have little faith and great fear.

Well said, indeed. We need young people who can think critically for themselves and learn how to separate truth from myth. You are a great breath of fresh air. Please, go right on encouraging your students to think every day and in every class you teach. And outside the classroom when the opportunity arises. We need an entire NATION of teachers like you.

Rated.
The last sentence of your (Mr. Corbett's) letter sent home to students said: "I encourage a full range of views." Having watched a video of your teaching, this statement is obviously false. You express total disrespect for people with religious faith. So tell me: How does that "encourage" a full range of views?
I think the issue here is not the fact that you disagree with religious faith, the issue is that you put down those with whom you disagree. Coming from a position of power, that is simply unacceptable.
The court got it right. You, Mr. Corbett, should change your behavior.
I'm very sad these things can happen in the U.S. in my opinion when it rains in your country it very soon starts drizzling in Europe and I can't imagine we (or anyone) need another shot of inquisition and witch-burning.I ask everybody to strongly support dr.Corbett and to fight obscurancy whenever we meet it.
"All those teachers, and there are many of us, who understand the value of questioning sacred myths serve this nation as faithfully as other patriots. What is true will be strengthened. What is false will be destroyed, as it should be. Such teachers should be honored. There is no greater gift teachers can give to students than to teach them to think."

Bravo. I may not agree with you but in the disagreement comes growth, challenge and change.

Students resist learning, meaning they resist challenging the status quo or even questioning it. For them the presumption of things are as they should be is strong in today's world. They resist leaning about anything that happened before they were born, and so history, the horrible parts of it, repeat themselves. They resist learning how to communicate on a broader level. Increasingly they resist reading replacing it with an as yet untested "new' literacy (which may prove very valuable, but is as yet untested against the literacy of the printed and spoken word.

Parents reinforce ignorance out of a need to keep thing simple, to explain the world as best they can in ways that give them comfort.

This in turn has led the complacency of the many and the polarization of those who choose to act, instead of dialogue, compromise and learning from the past and from others.

I teach college, but have taught a high school level program as well.
Dr. Corbett is my History teacher, and his class is always the one I look forward to most. It's the only class where I'm challenged to think. I'm challenged to question the everyday things that in our society we are just expected to accept without question, and to believe in the things that I feel are right. I always have something to tell my parents when they ask, "What did you learn today?"
I find his lectures extremely interesting and thought provacative.

Thank God for a teacher who finally let's you think for yourself, doesn't treat you like you're a "dangerous teenager" that needs to be contained at school.

He doesn't bash any religions, he just makes you think about different beliefs and the truths behind them.
I am extremely thankful to have a class like this.
It's definately better than sitting in AP World and not being able to discuss anything.
Having read through the court's decision, I think legal precedent could have supported a decision going either way. When only the most controversial of quotes are taken and strung together like that, you read through and it sounds like great chest exercises for men one long uninterrupted diatribe, but as I understand these are various isolated statements made over the course of a full year, and I'm sure students challenged his opinions from time to time. I'm going to have to disagree with those who feel Dr. Corbett has a disrespectful or abrasive tone about him; I concede that when you read these quotes back-to-back it can certainly sound that way.
the teachers are the best figure of the world, the most important hero.