There are a couple of interesting stories on the continued struggle over teaching evolution in public schools. In Louisiana, the state has approved special rules allowing teachers to challenge the basis of the theory of evolution. In California, a court ruled that a history teacher’s criticism of creationism violated the Constitution.
Louisiana, which has long had some of the lowest achievement levels in public education, will now have teachers challenging the basis of evolution. The alternative is obviously a belief in creationism. This will allow the use of supplemental materials, presumably including “intelligent design” material.
For the full story, click here.
While you can criticize evolution in Louisiana, you cannot criticize creationism in California. A court found that European history teacher, James Corbett, 62, violated by Constitution by referring to creationism as “superstitious nonsense”.
Chad Farnan, a devout Christian studying at California’s Capistrano Valley high school, had originally sued over a series of comments made by his teacher. It appears that Farnan spent many months collecting a dossier of material against Corbett before bringing the action.
The court threw out all but the last comment.
He is represented by Jennifer Monk, who works for a not-for-profit Christian law firm, Advocates for Faith and Freedom. She still claimed victory in establishing that the comment was actionable. I think she is right that it was a considerable victory. While the Court recently ruled that her client could not recover damages from the teacher, it still established the principle that a teacher cannot criticize creationism. It just shows that, if you want to argue for creationism, find a Monk.
What is interesting is that the basis for the ruling is that creationism is a religious belief. However, creationists have been advancing the same views under the label “intelligent design” and insist that this is not teaching religion. Thus, in places like Louisiana, they are likely to be calling for intelligent design material to be used in class. Does that mean if Corbett said “intelligent design is “superstitious nonsense”, it would not violate the Constitution?
Judge James Selna’s decision draws a curious line. He found that it does not violate the establishment clause for Corbett to say such things as “when you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth” because this statement was made in a historical context. He also ruled that it was not a violation to say “conservatives don’t want women to avoid pregnancies — that’s interfering with God’s work” and that there was as much evidence that God created the world “as there is that there is a gigantic spaghetti monster living behind the moon who did it”.
Ok, I am now confused. Selna insists that “there was no legitimate secular purpose to the statement and it constituted ‘improper disapproval of religion in violation of the establishment clause.'” The big spaghetti monster didn’t raise the same issue?
It sounds to me that Corbett went a bit far and should be a bit more circumspect. However, teaching evolution necessarily rejects the concept that a divine being simply created all of nature in a few days — just a few thousand years ago. While politicians still insist that carbon dating is a myth and the Earth was relatively recently created, teachers teach facts not faith. Evolution is a fact.
The other issue is the fact that this is a high school class. I would be very concerned about such comments in an elementary or middle school. However, in high school, teachers will often try to challenge their students and engage them in spirited debate. That is usually a matter for internal review at the school as opposed to fully fledge litigation.
Selna did rule in favor of Corbett on the issue of “qualified immunity,” holding “Corbett is shielded from liability – not because he did not violate the Constitution, but because of the balance which must be struck to allow public officials to perform their duties.”
For the earlier story, click here
For the latest story, click here.