By Kevin H. Wirth, ARN Director of Product Development and Media Relations
In a decision that sent shockwaves throughout American High Schools this week, the associtated press reported US District Court Judge James Selna handed down a ruling last Friday upholding student Chad Farnan's claim that his civil rights were violated when his teacher James Corbett commented during a history class that creationism was just "religious, superstitous nonsense." The ruling puts all teachers who engage in similar inappropriate anti-religious commentary on notice that such comments will likely not be tolerated.
The case, which has been been underway for 16 months, also noted several other reportedly anti-religious comments made by Corbett, but were dismissed by the Judge, including "when you put on your Jesus glasses, you can't see the truth," and a quote the judge said was likely attributable to Mark Twain when he said religion was "invented when the first con man met the first fool." Earlier in April, Selna dismissed other comments attributed to Corbett, such as, "Conservatives don't want women to avoid pregnancies -- that's interfering with God's work" and "When you pray for divine intervention, you're hoping that the spaghetti monster will help you get what you want." A more detailed account of Corbett's mouthy, pompous, and rambling trash talk -- often exhibiting a clear disdain for religion in general and Christianity in particular -- can be found in Farnan's original complaint. 
Corbett, a 20-year teaching veteran at Capistrano Valley High School, remains on the job.
I view this ruling as much more significant than many might realize, since the case offers insight into a widespread and growing trend of open hostility in many high schools directed by teachers towards students who question some aspects of evolution or who simply hold to conservative, traditional, or religous values. The ruling is also significant for the relief it offers for students who suffer similar hostile encounters with their teachers. Many students who question evolution on either scientific or religious grounds have frequently suffered strong opposition and open discrimination from their teachers, resulting in lower grades, loss of recommendations to schools, loss of other academic support, and in-class denigration.
Learning environments for students are even more challenging in many institutions of higher learning, where both students and educators face nothing less than a full-scale onslaught against them if they harbor particular beliefs and values. Those who disagree with various aspects of evolution are particularly singled out for a wide variety of discrimination tactics, as documented in the book Slaughter of the Dissidents, by Dr. Jerry Bergman. Ironically, the one comment Judge Selna faulted Corbett for was made in reference to a remark Corbett uttered about a former creationist educator (John Peloza) who once taught in the same school district Corbett hails from. The Peloza case is also addressed in Bergman's book.
Reaction on many blogs runs high in opposition to Corbett, and many who agree with him in principle are expressing their outrage at his behavior and are very upset that he appears to have seriously set back efforts to secularize our public schools.
One particularly vehement blogger lamented "Why do you have to ruin it for the rest of us. We do not need this case to reverse all that we have done to finally remove Chritianity from the school systems..." Corbett responded by noting in part:
I'm the teacher, Dr. Corbett. I never "bashed" any religion. I've never belittled a student. I talked about the 18th Century Catholic Church in Austria and I quoted Voltaire. In addition, I characterized the notion put forth by a local biology teacher that the earth was "very young, less than 6,000 years old and created by God, complete with fossils," as (my quote) "superstitious religious nonsense." It is, as a matter of science. When I said that, I also said that as a matter of faith, students can believe anything they want, but trying to turn religion into science perverts both religion and science. I'm disappointed that so many people still seem to think I would ever hurt a student. 
After reading Farnan's complaint, which is chock full of Corbett's clearly anti-religious statements, one can only conclude that he is in a state of serious self-delusion. There is clearly a definite disconnect between what Corbett thinks he said and what the rest of us can plainly see from reading his remarks.
Comments from other observers on this matter suggests that Judge Selna strangely refused to take Corbett to task for many of his clearly inappropriate and anti-religious diatribe, finding fault with only one of Corbett's comments. Ed Brayton, with whom I often disagree, expressed sentiments that are perhaps most in line with my own:
There will inevitably be conflicts between things taught in school and the religious beliefs of some students. When those conflicts occur, a teacher has to handle those situations with some degree of sensitivity. It is one thing to tell a student that they are teaching something because it is the position best supported by the evidence; it is quite another to tell them that their religion makes them incapable of seeing the truth and that their religion is a fraud believed in by fools. I think this teacher clearly crossed over the line here, and not just in the one statement the court found to be a problem. 
One other very interesting result of this case is that Selna's ruling found that the school district was not liable for Corbett's remarks - which stands in stark contrast with the fears expressed by many school districts about teachers who make comments on creationism or ID in a classroom setting. Many districts are concerned that any such remarks are inappropriate and leave them open lawsuits that could result in significant legal costs.
For now, Selna's ruling should offer some welcome relief to many students who would otherwise be subjected to ridicule and humiliation similar to that dished out by Corbett. Unfortunately, it will not reign in other types of discrimination that will continue to be made by educators intent on derailing the educational goals of many students who are viewed as Darwin skeptics. I wish young Farnan well as he seeks to enter college, and we'll all be watching to see if any college educator dares to cross his path with more of the same. If, that is, he gets admitted first.
Seattle area writer and Darwin skeptic Kevin Wirth is a founding member of ARN (formerly Students for Origins Research). He is also the Senior editor, contributor, and publisher of the book "Slaughter of the Dissidents: The Shocking Truth About Killing the Careers of Darwin Doubters" by Dr. Jerry Bergman (2008). This is the most comprehensive book published to date documenting the extent and types of discrimination against Darwin Dissidents. He is also the publisher of Caroline Crocker's upcoming book "Free to Think," (Leafcutter Press) which addresses her critics and relates her experience as an Expelled University professor. Her book is currently slated for release in June of 2009.
To read more essays by Kevin Wirth, click here.
Copyright (c) 2009 by Kevin H. Wirth, all rights reserved. Quotes and links are welcomed with attribution.
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