US judges rule for teacher who called creationism 'superstitious nonsense'
Did hostile classroom remarks about creationism violate the mandate that the government remain neutral on religion? An appeals court says the teacher has immunity from being sued.
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The dispute began in 2007 when Chad Farnan, then a 15-year-old sophomore in Corbett’s class, took issue with comments about creationism the teacher made during his lectures.Skip to next paragraph
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“Aristotle … argued, you know, there sort of has to be a God. Of course that’s nonsense,” Corbett said according to a transcript of his lecture. “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 this stuff that makes up the universe is here, something must have created it.’ Faulty logic. Very faulty logic.”
He continued: “The other possibility is, it’s always been there.… Your call as to which one of those notions is scientific and which one is magic.”
“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 giant spaghetti monster living behind the moon who did it,” the transcript says.
Corbett told his students that “real” scientists try to disprove the theory of evolution. “Contrast that with creationists,” he told his students. “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.”
Corbett told his students of a lawsuit in 1994 brought by a high school biology teacher who wanted to teach creationism in the public school system in addition to teaching the required course material on evolution. The courts in that case upheld a school district directive that the biology teacher must not teach creationism in science class.
In the 1994 case, the Ninth Circuit ruled that religious neutrality required that the biology teacher’s positive views of religious ideas must be excluded from public school instruction. But in 2011, a different panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled that the history teacher’s hostile views of religion and faith must be permitted to protect the “robust exchange of ideas in education.”
“Farnan asserts that it has been clearly established for many years that the government must remain neutral with regard to religion, and it may not show its disapproval of religion,” Fisher said.
“This overbroad proposition, cast at a high level of generality, is just the sort of sweeping statement of the law that is inappropriate for assessing whether qualified immunity applies,” the judge said.
Because the law was not clearly established, the panel said, they need not assess the underlying constitutional issue.
“At some point a teacher’s comments on religion might cross the line and rise to the level of unconstitutional hostility,” Fisher wrote.
“But without any cases illuminating the dimly perceived line of demarcation between permissible and impermissible discussion of religion in a college level history class, we cannot conclude that a reasonable teacher standing in Corbett’s shoes would have been on notice that his actions might be unconstitutional.”