Teacher says Christian student edited tapes presented as court evidence
A teacher in California who was convicted in a suit filed by a former student for disparaging Christianity in class said recently that the tapes that the student used as evidence were edited.
James Corbett, a European history teacher at Capistrano High School in Orange County, stated in a letter to The Orange County Register that the tapes presented as evidence by his former student, Chad Farnan, were edited and out of context.
Corbett lost the case in the lower court, and it has been appealed by both sides. He also blamed his previous lawyer for advising him poorly, he wrote in his letter which was also reprinted in the blog, Scholars & Rogues.
Farnan sued Corbett in 2007 when he was a student in Corbett’s Advanced Placement European History class. According to the website Advocates for Faith & Freedom, which is representing Farnan, the student taped several of Corbett’s lectures for study purposes.
In one of the tapes Corbett said, “When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.” Farnan felt that this was a
violation of his First Amendment right, and considered it an expression of hostility toward his faith, the Advocates for Faith & Freedom website said.
The Advocates for Faith & Freedom website considered the lower court ruling that was made in May 2009, “one of a kind,” when a federal District Court judge determined that Corbett was in violation of the Establishment Clause because he called creationism “superstitious nonsense.”
The Advocates for Faith & Freedom website said, “[T]his is the first case in the country to address this issue directly, it should help to place boundaries on teachers who feel free to improperly express hostility toward religion in public schools.”
The decision was rendered by U.S. District Judge James Selna of Santa Ana. However Corbett felt that he lost the case because he was not well advised by his lawyer, Dan Spradlin, who was assigned to him by the Capistrano Unified School District, The OC Register said.
Corbett wrote in his letter that Spradlin had advised him to ask for a summary judgment. He now regrets following that advice. He wrote in his letter to The OC Register, “Had I gone to court, I could easily have demonstrated that the recordings were edited and that Chad’s claim of ‘damages’ was false.”
In his letter Corbett wrote, “My attorney believed a fair application of Lemon Test would turn in my favor, but the test fails in a case such as mine both as a matter of law and of logic,” according to his letter as reprinted in Scholars & Rogues.
He also said in his letter that of all the statements he made that were raised by Farnan in the case, the one that was found to be hostile was a reference to creationism as “religious, superstitious nonsense,” according to The OC Register.
Because he had gone for a summary judgment, Corbett could not cross-examine Farnan under oath about editing the tapes. He wrote, “It was Selna who backed me into a corner with a ruling that, on the one hand made it appear as if Chad had a case, and on the other hand, prevented me from having a day in court,” The OC Register reported.
Jennifer Monk of the Advocates for Faith & Freedom, and counsel for Farnan rejected the claim that the tapes were either out of context or edited. She said the outcome would, she believes, have been the same if Corbett did not go for a summary judgment, The OC Register said.
Monk told The OC Register, “It’s very easy and convenient for Dr. Corbett to say that without any proof. I can’t imagine how we could have spliced it to make it sound more or less than what it is.”
Monk said in the Advocates for Faith & Freedom website, “Just as public school teachers are not allowed to promote one religion in the classroom, they should not be able to use their classrooms as a platform to attack religion because the pendulum swings both ways.”
The case has been appealed by both parties and is now before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Monk is requesting that the Ninth Circuit broaden the ruling of the lower court and declare Corbett’s comments unconstitutional. Corbett has found new legal advisers in the person of Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine’s law school, who is working pro bono, the website of Advocates for Faith & Freedom said.