Appeals court dismisses lawsuit against teacher charged with promoting hostility towards Christians
A federal appeals court in San Francisco dismissed recently a lawsuit filed by a student who claimed that his high school history teacher made statements in class that ridiculed religion and promoted hostility towards Christians.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed last Friday a lawsuit filed by student Chad Farnan against his former instructor, James Corbett, saying that teachers should be able to discuss controversial subjects freely.
In its decision, the court said there is no need to determine whether Corbett’s remarks violate the constitutional requirement for government neutrality, and said there is no clear indication that anyone’s constitutional rights were violated.
The court decision stated, “We must be careful not to curb intellectual freedom by imposing dogmatic restrictions that chill teachers from adopting the [instructive] methods they believe are most effective.”
Farnan filed the lawsuit in 2007 when he was a sophomore at Capistrano Valley High School. The 15-year-old student taped several statements that Corbett made in class that Farnan felt were offensive.
In his lawsuit, Farnan charged Corbett of “repeatedly promoting hostility toward Christians in class and advocating ‘irreligion over religion’ in violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause.”
Some 22 statements that Corbett made were presented as evidence by Farnan to the lower court. However, the court ruled that only one statement could be considered, where Corbett referred to a former teacher’s belief in creationism as “religious, superstitious nonsense.”
When the lower court ruled on behalf of Corbett, Farnan appealed the case and requested that all 22 statements that he had recorded be given consideration.
However, the Appeals Court dismissed the case in a 3-0 decision and upheld the decision of the lower court.
Farnan is presently a college student at Pepperdine University. His attorney, Robert Tyler, told The San Francisco Chronicle, “This case is about establishing legal precedent concerning the rights of children to be able to sit in a public school classroom without having their religion attacked.”
Tyler added, “This ruling was a disservice to millions of public school children, parents and teachers,” The Orange County Register reported. “It’s quite ironic that while the Ninth Circuit complains in the decision that the law is unclear as to whether a public school teacher showed hostility in the classroom, it failed to bring clarity when it had the opportunity to do so. Instead of addressing the constitutionality of the case, the court abandoned it.”
Corbett, 38, is still teaching at Capistrano Valley. He told the Orange County Register that he was pleased with the ruling, saying, “The court’s opinion was more than gratifying, it was a victory for free thought and academic freedom. The Ninth Circuit affirmed that in America, no religion has a right to demand that teachers defer to their beliefs. If that were true, teaching would become a constitutional minefield.”
Among the statements Corbett made in the course of teaching lessons in his class was, “When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.” Corbett also said in another instance, (referring to the 16th century conflict between religion and science), that evidence of creationism is as plentiful as proof that “there is a giant spaghetti monster living behind the moon who did it.”
In its decision, the Appeals Court said, “In broaching controversial issues like religion, teachers must be sensitive to students’ personal beliefs and take care not to abuse their positions of authority. … But teachers must also be given leeway to challenge students to foster critical thinking skills and develop their analytical abilities.”