May 7, 2009
A teenager in California has won his lawsuit against a public school teacher who called creationism “superstitious nonsense” during a classroom lecture. Chad Farnan sued Capistrano Valley High School history teacher James Corbett for that and other anti-religion comments he said made Christians in the class feel uncomfortable, disparaged their beliefs, and violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The clause, which prohibits the government from making laws that establish religion, has been interpreted as also prohibiting government employees from promoting or showing hostility toward religion.
While a federal judge agreed that Corbett’s comment about creationism was an “improper disapproval of religion” and violated the student’s constitutional rights, he felt differently about the rest of Corbett’s statements because they did not directly refer to religion or were made within the context of the class. Corbett had also said that religion is not “connected with morality,” there was as much evidence for creationism “as there is that there is a gigantic spaghetti monster living behind the moon who did it,” and that “when you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.”
The judge, James Selna, said his ruling “reflects the constitutionally permissible need for expansive discussion even if a given topic may be offensive to a particular religion,” but also “reflects that there are boundaries. … The ruling today protects Farnan, but also protects teachers like Corbett in carrying out their teaching duties.”
Farnan, who says he’s not seeking monetary damages, plans to ask the court to prohibit Corbett from making similar anti-Christian statements in the future. —Heather Wax