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15 year old sues teacher for negative comments about creationism and religious literalists; court rules for the teacher

15 year old sues teacher for negative comments about creationism and religious literalists; court rules for the teacher

The debate about evolution vs. creationism in the classroom is an old debate, yet one that has not lost its potency in the last 85 years.    Except today, even kids with tape recorders in class can sue teachers.   The Courthouse News Service reports that in 2007 a 15 year old sued a California teacher for negative remarks about creationism, Christianity, magical thinking and religious literalists complaining that the teacher violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution by having such discussions in class. The four year old suit is over.  Today, the court ruled for the teacher and intellectual freedom:

 Many of the allegedly offensive comments, which are quoted in the ruling at length from a lower court decision, came during classroom discussions about the scientific method and its historical significance. Prior to the start of school year, Corbett had sent a letter to all of his AP history students, warning them that class discussions would be "quite provocative and focus on the 'lessons' of history," according to the ruling.
"Um, see, people believed before the scientific revolution that the Bible was literal and that anything that happened, God did it," Corbett said, according to quotations in the ruling, which are taken from transcripts of recordings of Corbett's classes. "They didn't understand. They didn't have the scientific method. They didn't approach truth. The explanation to everything literally was that God did it. And the ultimate authority … was the Bible."
Corbett also said: "Aristotle was a physicist. He said, 'No movement without movers.' And he argued that, you know, there sort of has to be a God. Of course that's nonsense. I mean, that's what you call deductive reasoning, you know. And you hear it all the time with people who say, 'Well, if all this stuff that makes up the universe is here, something must have created it.' Faulty logic. Very faulty logic."
And about creationists, he said, "They never try to disprove creationism. They're all running around trying to prove it. That's deduction. It's not science. Scientifically, it's nonsense."
U.S. District Judge James Selna in Santa Ana, Calif., found that Corbett had qualified immunity from the student's lawsuit. A three-judge appellate panel in Pasadena affirmed on Friday.
"In broaching controversial issues like religion, teachers must be sensitive to students' personal beliefs and take care not to abuse their positions of authority," Judge Raymond Fisher wrote for the panel. "But teachers must also be given leeway to challenge students to foster critical thinking skills and develop their analytical abilities. This balance is hard to achieve, and we must be careful not to curb intellectual freedom by imposing dogmatic restrictions that chill teachers from adopting the pedagogical methods they believe are most effective."

The victory is considered to be one for teachers across the United States who fear controversial subjects and who may intentionally avoid teaching them for fear of being sued.   Currently, the state of Kentucky  has a statute  that specifically allows teachers to include evidence from the Bible supporting creationism in their science classes:

158.177 Teaching of evolution — Right to include Bible theory of creation.
(1) In any public school instruction concerning the theories of the creation of man and the earth, and which involves the theory thereon commonly known as evolution, any teacher so desiring may include as a portion of such instruction the theory of creation as presented in the Bible, and may accordingly read such passages in the Bible as are deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of creation, thereby affording students a choice as to which such theory to accept.
(2) For those students receiving such instruction, and who accept the Bible theory of creation, credit shall be permitted on any examination in which adherence to such theory is propounded, provided the response is correct according to the instruction received.
(3) No teacher in a public school may stress any particular denominational religious belief.
(4) This section is not to be construed as being adverse to any decision which has been rendered by any court of competent jurisdiction.
Effective: July 13, 1990
History: Repealed and reenacted 1990 Ky. Acts ch. 476, Pt. V, sec. 403, effective July 13, 1990. — Created 1976 Ky. Acts ch. 261, sec. 1.


About Dakota O'Leary

Dakota O'Leary is a freethinker, and often sassy, scholar of theology and literature. She got her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Theology from the State University of New York College at Buffalo, and her Master of Arts degree in Theology and Literature from Antioch University-Midwest. She is a contributing writer focusing on eschatology, biblical prophecy, and general religious news. Dakota is a co-host of the God Discussion radio show, offering insight to the news stories of the week. We like to call her "our in-house Biblical prophecy expert" as her articles on eschatology have received over 200,000 views on God Discussion.
  • When it comes to a real education, I do not think it is possible for a teacher to violate the First Amendment rights of theists. If Xians truly believe the truth will set them free, then they need to be open to real science. Knowledge and a real education is what really sets people free from the shackles of superstition, not superstition. If their faith in their superstitious being cannot withstand the test of true knowledge, then it was never truth to begin with, but rather lies of the Church, that kept them brainwashed, ignorant, deluded, and under the control of a dictating authority establishment that was created by humans, in particularly men.

    The fact is, religion cannot withstand the truth of scientific discovery. It never has. We found that the earth was not the center of the universe and it is not flat. We found that a bat is not a bird, but rather a mammal. The ark could not hold all the animals in the world and there never was a worldwide flood. We also find that we are part of the animal kingdom and not separate from it. The list goes continues as to what is not true in the Bile and when we dig deep enough, we find things in the NT that never happened also.

    Sadly, Xians, Muslims, and other religious groups want so desperately for their parental figure, messiah/prophet, etc to be true, that they won't stop at any lengths to bury their heads in the sand and attempt to force others to do the same. Eventually, although it will take time and Islam might gain a bit of an upper hand before it is over, today's religions will lose power over the people, but that does not mean humans won't attempt to create other religions, more in line with our modern knowledge. Eventually, those religions too may get squashed by scientific knowledge too.

    Humans are forever wanting an invisible parental figure, but they don't need an invisible parent figure. They need to grow up, as Spong says.

    • We've been reporting on this case for quite awhile. My impression is that this kid was attending lectures for the express purpose of trying to find "bad" things said by this teacher, and he was encouraged by his parents. I haven't read the transcript to see if this was confirmed in court, but I know that some of the things complained of were quotes by Mark Twain.


  • irishsmile

    The teacher was pushing an ignostic agenda. Let the teachers stick with academics instead of attacking religious beliefs. American kids are not doing very well in terms of math, science and reading. Stick to basics and leave the agendas at the door.

  • Andreas Dinkelacker

    irishsmile, it is not the only task of teachers to present data that is to be memorised. The most important task is to instil curiosity and critical thinking coupled with fact finding. And that is precisely what religion conviction cannot bear. And perhaps because of the curbs on the most important tasks the USA's kids are not doing very well…

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