This head-scratching started with digby’s post about a Santa Ana, CA, judge’s ruling. A Christian student in a Mission Viejo public school history class felt insulted by the teacher’s comments, felt they disparaged his beliefs. The student recorded the comments and filed a suit alleging that they violated the first amendment.
How is that possible? Because of the amendment’s establishment clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion“:
The establishment clause has generally been interpreted to prohibit 1) the establishment of a national religion by Congress, or 2) the preference of one religion over another or the support of a religious idea with no identifiable secular purpose. The first approach is called the “separationist” or “no aid” interpretation, while the second approach is called the “non-preferentialist” or “accommodationist” interpretation. The accommodationist interpretation prohibits Congress from preferring one religion over another, but does not prohibit the government’s entry into religious domain to make accommodations in order to achieve the purposes of the Free Exercise Clause.
So this means neither in support nor against the establishment of any religion, as far as I can tell (legal experts, feel free to jump in and tweak this assessment if it’s required). This would also include someone, a government official, from even saying ‘Your religion makes no sense.’ Or, ‘You Voodoo guys are out of your minds.’ As a government employee, it toys with what the government could presume to establish (to favor: ‘I dunno–but not yours, that’s for sure.’)
Okay, now the ruling:
California: Ruling Against Anti-Creationism Teacher
A federal judge has ruled that a history teacher at a Southern California public high school violated the First Amendment when he called creationism “superstitious nonsense” in a classroom lecture. The judge, James Selna, issued the ruling after a 16-month legal battle between a student, Chad Farnan, and his former teacher, James Corbett. Mr. Farnan’s lawsuit said Mr. Corbett had made more than 20 statements that were disparaging to Christians and their beliefs. The judge found that Mr. Corbett’s reference to creationism as “religious, superstitious nonsense” violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause. Courts have interpreted the clause as prohibiting government employees from displaying religious hostility. Mr. Corbett teaches at Capistrano Valley High School.
Okay–it’s not the craziest interpretation of the first amendment, at least on its face. This is the crazy part: Creationists passionately swear that Creationism is pure Science. Otherwise they could never ask it be considered for public school, right? We’d be right back to breaking the same establishment clause. The Christian kids are taught it as a ‘science’, but then they walk into public school and–presto–it’s a ‘belief’. How’s that for nuts? Mind you–of all the comments the teacher made, only the one about Creationism was found to violate the first amendment, and it was the only reason the suit was won by the plaintiff.
So public school teachers, when a student wants to discuss Creationism–can you, constitutionally? If you attack it as Bad Science, are you violating the establishment clause? Do you have to ask if a student believes in it as Religion or considers it to be Science? What if they say they ‘believe it’ either way? What if two students want to talk about it, but each has a different ‘belief’? You could end up engaging only one of them ‘legally’ for the identical discussion.
This is double-brain-melt crazy.