Creationism Comment Violated Constitution

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

Texas Follow-Up

The Institute for Creation Research has sued the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which denied the institute’s request for state certification that would allow it to offer an online master’s degree in science education. In the lawsuit, the ICR claims the decision violates its civil rights and that it was discriminated against because its program would be based on “creation science” rather than evolution.
When the board denied the school’s request last year, Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said the institute’s program wouldn’t prepare graduates to teach the state’s public school science standards, which include the study of evolution. —Heather Wax

Case Dismissed

For months we’ve been following the case of Christine Comer, who filed a lawsuit against the Texas Education Agency challenging the constitutionality of its policy that requires its staff to be neutral on the topics of evolution and creationism. The case was dismissed earlier this week when a federal judge ruled that the agency’s neutrality policy doesn’t violate the constitution.
Comer was asking the court to overturn the policy and require the agency to give her back her job: She was forced to resign as the agency’s director of science curriculum after she forwarded an email from the National Center for Science Education (a pro-evolution group) announcing that Barbara Forrest would be speaking in Austin about (and against) attempts to get “intelligent design” into science classes. Comer said she was just passing on information; the agency saw it as an endorsement and terminated her employment. —Heather Wax

Case Dismissed

Jeanne Caldwell’s lawsuit against the Understanding Evolution Web site, a joint project of the University of California Museum of Paleontology and the National Center for Science Education, has been dismissed. A federal appeals court has upheld the lower court’s decision in the case, in which Caldwell challenged the constitutionality of the site, saying it violates the separation of church and state with statements made under the section “Misconception: ‘Evolution and religion are incompatible.’” The site explains that the “misconception that one always has to choose between science and religion is incorrect. Of course, some religious beliefs explicitly contradict science (e.g., the belief that the world and all life on it was created in six literal days); however, most religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings. In fact, many religious people, including theologians, feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith.”
Caldwell argues that the site, which is supported by a federal grant, violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment with government-endorsed religious messages. She uses the site, she says, to participate as an informed citizen in debates and decisions about science class materials (her kids attend California public schools), but the appeals court found “there is too slight a connection between Caldwell’s generalized grievance, and the government conduct about which she complains, to sustain her standing to proceed.” —Heather Wax

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