15 year old sues teacher for negative comments about creationism and religious literalists; court rules for the teacher
On August 23, 2011 At 12:00 am
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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.