-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
We have previously discussed the case of Dr. James Corbett, a history teacher at Capistrano Valley high school, who was sued over comments he made when he referred to creationism as “superstitious nonsense.” A three-judge panel for The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously ruled that the district court’s judgement on the constitutionality of Corbett’s statements be vacated. The appeals court affirmed the district court’s finding that Corbett was entitled to qualified immunity.
the First Amendment does not permit the State to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma.
In the appeals court opinion, Judge Fisher wrote:
Even statements exhibiting some hostility to religion do not violate the Establishment Clause if the government conduct at issue has a secular purpose, does not have as its principal or primary effect inhibiting religion and does not foster excessive government entanglement with religion.
A secular purpose can be found in the encouragement of students to develop critical thinking skills. Are religious views to be granted a pass on criticism? Are points of view, that differ from religious points of view, unconstitutional? Only those with undefendable points of view need the courts to protect them from having to think. It is a false worldview that requires governmental intrusion to sustain it.
Recall that the First Amendment grants the right of free exercise of religion. If criticism of religious views causes an individual to decide not express their religious views, then the individual, not the criticizer, is responsible.
In evaluating the grant of qualified immunity, the appeals court observed that the law has not been clearly established, “there has never been any reported case holding that a teacher violated the Establishment Clause by making statements in the classroom that were allegedly hostile to religion.”