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Teacher Cannot Be Sued For Denying Creationism

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the let-there-be-rights dept.

Education 775

gzipped_tar writes "A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that a public high school teacher in Mission Viejo, California may not be sued for making hostile remarks about religion in his classroom. The decision stems from a lawsuit filed by a student charging that the teacher's hostile remarks about creationism and religious faith violated a First Amendment mandate that the government remain neutral in matters of religion. A three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the lawsuit must be thrown out of court because the teacher was entitled to immunity."

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So (5, Insightful)

Stargoat (658863) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153034)

So if a teacher came out in favor of creationism, a radical form, let's say one that proclaimed blacks, asians, and all other non-whites as descendants of evil evil Cain, would it be possible to sue that teacher?

Clearly and obviously Adam and Eve never existed and this should be taught to any young person as truth is always preferable to falsehoods, but what about someone promoting a falsehood?

Re:So (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153124)

So if a teacher came out in favor of creationism, ... would it be possible to sue that teacher?

I would guess not. [anonymouse.org]

Re:So (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153200)

>.< fubar link. Correct link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IguW9xHd2qo [youtube.com] .

Re:So (1)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153148)

Anything is possible in today's litigious society, but one has to account for the fact that this lawsuit was based in California.

Give my experiences in GA and the deep south, especially as regards religion in schools, I don't think we would have seen a ruling like this there...

Re:So (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153168)

So what is truth? Does an objective truth exist at all? How would we know it, assuming it even existed?

Re:So (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153524)

Crap. New semester, new first year philosophy student bull shit.

Re:So (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153170)

Clearly and obviously Adam and Eve never existed and this should be taught to any young person as truth is always preferable to falsehoods, but what about someone promoting a falsehood?

I agree, 1st grade science should be oriented around presenting evidence to debunk the existence of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc.

Simple minds need to believe in magical higher powers to give them comfort, some people grow out of this and some get religion. It should be their own choice if/when that happens and should not be forced by public (tax funded) schools.

Re:So (3, Interesting)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153444)

I agree, 1st grade science should be oriented around presenting evidence to debunk the existence of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc.

1st grade science should not teach that, but what happens when people try to make Santology part of the 9th grade science syllabus? I can understand teachers not wanting to teach it, but when a student asks why it is not being taught should they be able to discuss the reasons in class?

Re:So (5, Informative)

AchilleTalon (540925) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153236)

If you RTFA, the case you are describing was already judged by the same court. A biology teacher did want to teach about creationism and this was refused by the court.

"In the 1994 case, the Ninth Circuit ruled that religious neutrality required that the biology teacher’s positive views of religious ideas must be excluded from public school instruction. But in 2011, a different panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled that the history teacher’s hostile views of religion and faith must be permitted to protect the “robust exchange of ideas in education.”"

So, I guess it then all depends what matter you are teaching.

Relevance vs Revelation (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153480)

No, what matters is who has the power to direct teachers in the classroom. And if you had cited the relevant authority covered in the fine article, it would have looked something like this, "The courts in that case upheld a school district directive that the biology teacher must not teach creationism in science class."

The question before that court was whether the classroom instructor had the authority to overrule the authority of the elected body responsible for setting policy. Only in matters where you can exercise free will is that option is available. That's why, in a democratic capitalistic republic, you have to pray to God for that privilege.

I believe that is true even in Texas... unless you want to ecology. Then you don't have a prayer.

Re:So (0)

dosius (230542) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153240)

Ugh. Serpent seed doctrine. Mostly the domain of Branhamites and the Christian Identity (white-supremacist) movement.

-uso.

Nice Description - I got one too! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153292)

Ugh. Sentences and words. Mostly the domain of authors and forum posters.

See I'm smart enough to give a reverse definition too. Of course it contributes absolutely nothing to the discussion since anyone who was interested already knew that. But like I said I'm smart so look at how clever I am while I pat myself on the back for knowing these things.

Re:So (3, Insightful)

colnago (91472) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153406)

"Clearly and obviously?" Not trying to sound obstinate here. How do you know that?

Re:So (1)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153466)

Because then you would be my cousin.
That and, by natural law, Eve was Adams sister.

Re:So (5, Informative)

mmarlett (520340) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153510)

Yes, you can sue for that. That has been well established. TFA actually mentions such a case from 1994.

The misleading thing here is that when people read that a teacher "may not be sued for making hostile remarks about religion" one assumes that the remarks were actually hostile. The court basically said that the teacher has no reason to believe that what he said should be taken as hostile. The teacher, for his part, never mentioned a specific creationist theory, but rather said this:

Aristotle argued, you know, there sort of has to be a God. Of course that’s nonsense. ... 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. The other possibility is, it’s always been there. Your call as to which one of those notions is scientific and which one is magic. All I’m saying is that, you know, the people who want to make the argument that God did it, there is as much evidence that God did it as there is that there is a giant spaghetti monster living behind the moon who did it.

And one more graph from the article:

Corbett told his students that “real” scientists try to disprove the theory of evolution. “Contrast that with creationists,” he told his students. “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.”

Keep in mind that this was an Advanced Placement European History class (that is to say, college level even though it was in high school). Even more interesting is a quote about the case from the defendant himself back in February [wordpress.com] :

james corbett | 12-February-2011 at 12:09 pm |
I’m Dr. Corbett. One thing readers should understand is that when my school-provided attorney made the decision to ask a judge rather than a judge decide the case, the law required that all the “facts” be considered in the light most favorable to the plaintiff (Chad). That meant that we could not challenge the validity of the recordings, which were heavily edited. It meant that we could not point out how each and every comment clearly related to the curriculum. I might add, Chad’s recording were in violation of California law.
This case was never about religion. It was about a whiny little boy who admitted he didn’t do his homework and who’s helicopter parents intervened so often in school and on the water polo team that other students called him “princess.” Neither Chad, his parents nor his lawyers, the so called “Advocates for Faith and Freedom,” ever made an attempt to even talk to me or attempt to resolve the issues prior to filing a lawsuit. It is my opinion that the “Advocates” were far more interested in having a case they could use for fundraising than they were in dealing with the issues. They are a textbook example of exactly what I commented on in class, that some people use the faith of others to line their pockets with gold or to gain political power. I believe such use of religion is vastly more offensive than calling Biblical creation “superstitious, religious nonsense,” which is obviously true.”

Re:So (2)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153528)

If the teacher doesn't have any evidence support the story of Adam and Eve what with the serpent and all, then they aren't teaching, they're doing missionary work and should be fired if they keep up with it. I'm not sure what the specific comments are, but creationism has no place in scientific inquiry other than as a cautionary tale as to why one must be careful about getting the evidence right.

Score (2)

Wicked Zen (1006745) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153036)

One point for Common Sense.

Re:Score (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153108)

In this particular case, I generally agree with the specifics as I am sympathetic to the notion that creationism is indeed superstitious nonsense. But I have to wonder and worry a little about where this can go.

Do I worry that science teachers who are sympathetic to creationism will somehow warp the young minds of students? Actually, no. By the time they reach a science class, they just about have their minds made up on the topic. I do worry, however, what the next thing will be to follow will be. After all, creationists love to twist their faith into the shape of fact (like a balloon animal) in increasingly creative ways.

What's more, I expect to see violence against science teachers since the right to seek remedy in the courts has been removed. You know, the kind we have seen against abortion doctors?

Re:Score (1)

jdpars (1480913) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153130)

Wait a minute. A court opens the door to religion-bashing teachers telling their students how stupid they are for believing in God, and you're worried that the religious people of the country will just get worse? Wow, what a warped perspective.

Re:Score (-1, Troll)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153194)

Religion, by definition, is superstition. But the faithful are pretty dangerous people at times when they feel they have to defend their faith. As much as "jesus christ" has instructed his followers to turn the other cheek, it's rarely practiced.

Re:Score (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153284)

Radical populations have a long and storied history of getting violent when a law they don't like passes. Would you like me to start with the KKK or the anti-abortionism movement? I assume you've never had to deal with extremists face-to-face for very long. This really shouldn't surprise you one bit.

Re:Score (2)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153490)

I had a Biology teacher that went out of her way to tell us all that the state mandated teachings on evolution were crap and that if she had a choice she wouldn't teach it at all, then proceeded to tell us the "real truth" about where we came from, cracked the bible she carried with her everywhere she went, and proceeded to spend a week on teaching us Creationism, complete with quizzes to make sure we'd properly absorbed the knowledge. She did everything she could to gloss over evolution.

Granted, this is the other extreme, this woman also ran the Bible Club, the Abstinence Club (boy was that a hit) and was in charge of a prayer circle that met every day right in front of the school, complete with speaking in tongues. This was in a public school in Georgia, mind you.

There was grumbling in my class, and there was grumbling every year about her, but frankly, the Christians outnumbered the rest of us so complaints were useless. Our entire faculty was Christian; our principle had biblical scriptures hanging on the walls of his office.

I'm willing to bet that for every public school that's going after religious teachings with a hatchet there's 3 that are going completely the opposite way, so I wouldn't worry at all, honestly...the religious people are winning the war and the indoctrination will continue. If you want to learn real science, though, it may be time to start looking into private schools.

I'm coming to a conclusion .. (1)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153050)

That the US constitution is a great boon to the country, yet at the same time being a huge albatross around its neck. FFS suing someone because they expressed an opinion in an arena where they may/may not be allowed to have an opinion, instead of growing a pair, sucking it up and realizing that not everyone agrees with you. And yes I am aware of the protections that the constitution grants, but in this case a lawsuit seems overkill.

Re:I'm coming to a conclusion .. (1)

The Creator (4611) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153094)

growing a pair

Screw pairs, everyone should just have one giant uni-testicle of excellence.

Re:I'm coming to a conclusion .. (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153294)

That doesn't sound very aerodynamic.

Re:I'm coming to a conclusion .. (2)

timeOday (582209) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153102)

It seems you and the judge agree, so what's the problem?

I am not that surprised that the case occurred. I can see why people might be annoyed at being compelled to pay the salary of somebody who denigrates their beliefs, and there's a difference between freely expressing a personal opinion vs one's responsibilities in acting as an agent/employee of the state. But, like the judge said, it is important for education to challenge beliefs, especially when known facts contract those beliefs.

Re:I'm coming to a conclusion .. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153132)

furthermore, why "sue"? how would damages be awarded in this case, or better what, what are the damages claimed in the lawsuit?! (i couldnt find it in TFA).

couldnt there just have been some sort of public debate?

Far Left? Far Right? Just keep your mouth closed! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153090)

Unless it is a private religious school, religion should not be being mentioned in a classroom by a teacher (with exceptions for history class facts).

Someone says something pro-religion the left gets up in arms! Someone says something anti-religious and the right gets up in arms!

I do not pay (taxes) teachers to teach my kids their personal beliefs, even if those beliefs are the same as mine, that's still not their job. This just opens the door for pro-religious teachers to start denouncing atheism or other denominations. Just shut up about religion in school altogether please, either for or against, and start teaching facts and critical thinking skills.

Sheesh

Re:Far Left? Far Right? Just keep your mouth close (2)

dosius (230542) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153254)

If only.

These days schools teach children to be bricks in the wall, not critical thinkers capable of making their own educated judgments.

-uso.

Re:Far Left? Far Right? Just keep your mouth close (0)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153596)

I do believe the point of a school is to teach math, science, english, reading, writing, perhaps gym class and foreign languages.
The rest is up to the parents, friends, and if they feel the need, sunday school or saturday synagog.
If Science scares religious people that much, perhaps they should conjure up a spell or ask their god to do something about it.
And until the spell works or "god" responds to their wishes... I mean prayers, you should just stick to what people have been doing for decades.

Maybe not sued.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153092)

But whether he agrees with his students beliefs or not, he should at least be respectful. As much as I hate the idea of creationism being taught in schools, I think this douche bag should be fired. But hey, it is the 9th circuit they usually don't have a fucking clue anyways let alone being able to reliably and consistently interpret written laws.

Re:Maybe not sued.... (2)

Flyerman (1728812) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153234)

Didn't RTFA, did ya?

Re:Maybe not sued.... (1)

Frankie70 (803801) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153486)

But whether he agrees with his students beliefs or not, he should at least be respectful.

What if a student believes that 2 + 2 = 5?

like slander (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153098)

You can't be sued for slander if you're telling the truth. Creationism is wrong, so you can trash talk it all you like.

Nice to know that it is lawful to have an opinion (4, Insightful)

mykos (1627575) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153100)

That pesky Constitution really mucks up frivolous litigation sometimes

Re:Nice to know that it is lawful to have an opini (2)

Dinghy (2233934) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153458)

Does this mean that you would support a teacher with a belief in creationism teaching his opinion in a public school? I have my doubts.

Re:Nice to know that it is lawful to have an opini (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153484)

It's not the Constitution; it's the teacher's right to immunity.

News for Nerds? I speculate No! (1)

PCPackrat (1251400) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153104)

News for nerds? No. More like news to see how many flaming posts they can get. Where is the flaimbait button for the OP.

Re:News for Nerds? I speculate No! (2, Insightful)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153380)

Creationism is an infectious idea that has the potential to do a great deal of damage amongst the less educated. The last thing the United States needs is public resistance to fundamental research. If left to their own devices and accommodated instead of confronted, the supporters of this ideology could (and would) push the US back to before the Renaissance. It's happened before [wikipedia.org] .

Of course, that being said, the Chinese would pick up the slack (and arguably already have), but their government is fantastically corrupt and secretive and probably wouldn't make the best flag-bearer for human civilization.

No-Brainer? (1)

ThunderBird89 (1293256) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153122)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but a school is not a government institution, and the teacher is not a government employee, is he? So he can say whatever he wishes about religion, and still not invoke the "Church and State, separate!"-clause.

In Hungary, there's something called the National Curriculum, but that only specifies the rough topics and lays out a track to follow to the end of high school. Inside those topics, the teachers are free to subdivide their classes, and teach whatever they wish, since they aren't government employees (only public servants), and although the schools are government/municipality-funded, they are not government institutions.

Re:No-Brainer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153178)

Church and State, separate! - clause???

Please show me in the constitution where it says separation of church and state? Go on, I'll wait.

Re:No-Brainer? (1)

dosius (230542) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153282)

You realize that the founding fathers stated directly that this was how they intended the first amendment's religion clause to be understood?

-uso.

Re:No-Brainer? (1)

siride (974284) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153334)

The establishment clause. Despite the religious right's attempt to make it appear impotent, the clause is pretty clear about the state's role in religion. It's effectively a separation of church and state clause.

Re:No-Brainer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153242)

Well, the establishment clause has been invoked time and again to keep religion out of the classroom, so it's not unreasonable to think that it could be used to limit a teacher making hostile remarks about religion. I mean, he used the flying spaghetti monster as an analogy to explain why religion is irrational. In my opinion, that qualifies as (anti)religious instruction. For a public school teacher, saying 'your religion is wrong' in a lecture is just as bad as saying 'mine is right'.

Re:No-Brainer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153324)

In the US, private schools can say/do what they want but public schools are government institutions and the teachers are government employees. According to the article this teacher apparently referred to a previous court decision about teachers discussing religion in schools during his anti religion speech. I suspect that is why the student sued him in the first place.

Re:No-Brainer? (1)

Jaysyn (203771) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153476)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but a school is not a government institution, and the teacher is not a government employee, is he? So he can say whatever he wishes about religion, and still not invoke the "Church and State, separate!"-clause.

Yeah, actually it is a government institution. The difference is that this teacher was stating an opinion, religious types tend to claim they are telling the truth.

Re:No-Brainer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153506)

Define "government institution"? They're not federal, but public schools in the US are local or state institutions so yes, they are government institutions.

I'm so glad I went to a private school not based on religion. We'd occasionally say the Lord's Prayer during assemblies, and hear Philippians 4:8 (whatsoever things are true...) and coaches would sometimes have a short prayer before games but that was all and nobody thought it was a big deal, not the atheists, Jews or even the rare Hindu or Muslim students.

I don't think public schools should promote religion or denigrate it, but if a valedictorian wants to mention "god" in their graduation speech people need to realize that it's not an endorsement by the school any more than it would be an endorsement of ICP if the student said they never studied and drank Faygo while wearing clown makeup to get through high school.

Re:No-Brainer? (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153552)

Schools are typically run and funded by the state. And teachers are typically government employees. There are private schools where that is the case many of which will teach all sorts of crazy things like virgin births and how God created everything but inexplicably can't be proven to exist in any sort of rigorous scientific study.

That being said, there shouldn't be any protection for creationists in the public school system given that it's more or less the antithesis of scientific theory. Now, if one of those fundamentalist can find objective evidence to support the idea, then that should change, but as it is, the priority of teachers ought to be on education, not coddling a bunch of right wing loons.

Was he really criticizing religion per se? (5, Insightful)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153128)

TFA includes a shortened transcript of the teacher's comments, and it doesn't sound to me like he was criticizing religion per se. Rather, he was criticizing attempts by people to pose religion as science (such as intelligent design), by saying that the "logic" used to argue in favor of creationism is fundamentally flawed and nonscientific. And especially if intelligent design advocates continue to insist that their ideas be taught as science in a science classroom, then such criticisms should certainly be fair game in science classrooms.

At least from the transcript, it didn't seem like he was directly criticizing those who nevertheless believe in a creator as a matter of faith and not of science.

Transcript (5, Informative)

BenoitRen (998927) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153314)

Indeed. Here's the transcript for reference for people who didn't RTFA:

"Aristotle ... argued, you know, there sort of has to be a God. Of course that's nonsense," Corbett said according to a transcript of his lecture. "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."

He continued: "The other possibility is, it's always been there.... Your call as to which one of those notions is scientific and which one is magic."

"All I'm saying is that, you know, the people who want to make the argument that God did it, there is as much evidence that God did it as there is that there is a giant spaghetti monster living behind the moon who did it," the transcript says.

Corbett told his students that "real" scientists try to disprove the theory of evolution. "Contrast that with creationists," he told his students. "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."

He gets bonus points from me for including the Giant Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Re:Was he really criticizing religion per se? (4, Interesting)

the_raptor (652941) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153348)

Who cares if the teacher was criticising religion or not. Individual opinion of people who work for the government is not the same as government policy.

Here is the part of the first amendment of the US constitution that is pertinent to the case:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

Nope, doesn't say "government workers have to have neutral attitudes towards religion". Members of government, let alone government workers, in the US can be as rapidly pro or anti religious as they like and they won't break the first amendment unless they start making policy that establishes religion or prevents the free exercise thereof.

If the nutjob who sued can't even understand what the first amendment protects, they sure as hell aren't going to distinguish between those who say creationism isn't a science (I say that and I am an evangelical Christian) and straight out attacks against religion.

P.S. I am an Australian and I find it sad that I know more about the US constitution than most Americans and the talking heads on TV.

Re:Was he really criticizing religion per se? (1)

jfengel (409917) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153442)

Individual opinion of people who work for the government is not the same as government policy.

It is, and must be, official government policy that individuals working for them, especially in a position of educating children, stay out of religious matters. Students are ordered to go to school and told to believe everything that the teacher tells them. What the individual says in that context has a lot of force, more than ordinary first amendment right to free speech.

From what I read in that transcript, the teacher is out of line. A generous reading can exonerate the teacher from actually denying the existence of God, but it goes well beyond simply pointing out that intelligent design is not scientific.

Re:Was he really criticizing religion per se? (3, Insightful)

supercrisp (936036) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153554)

He points out nonsensical logic used to justify the existence of god. Even cursory reading of Christian theologians indicates that calling out people on nonsense is an established scholarly tradition--even among the orthodox. And often, of course, the contest is for who will be orthodox. For example, the contest between Augustine and Pelagius (Augustine won), or Luther and All Comers (title contested). And saying that deductive reasoning isn't science is a fair statement. I suspect the reason this teacher is out of line is that you can infer that he is an atheist. But that is his business. And, frankly, adults should give young people enough information to infer such things. That's how most children of backward parents learn that atheists, socialists, Jews, and homosexuals don't actually eat babies in the name of their Dark Lord Satan.

Re:Was he really criticizing religion per se? (1)

Larryish (1215510) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153422)

a: "What makes the Bible true?"

b: "The Bible is the word of God."

a: "How do you know the Bible is the word of God?"

b: "Because it is in the Bible."

a: "What makes the Bible true?"

b: "Because the Bible is the word of God."

a: "How do you know the Bible is the word of God?"

b: "Because it is in the Bible."

a: "What makes the Bible true?"

b: "Because the Bible is the word of God."

a: "How do you know the Bible is the word of God?"

b: "Because it is in the Bible."

*** Warning: Infinite loop detected. Discussion halted. ***

You just can't talk to churchy people. Their devil's name is Logic.

Clearly Established: a useful standard. (5, Informative)

GrifterCC (673360) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153138)

I am a lawyer, and about a third of my cases are representing state employees, and about a third of those involve cases with a "clearly established" defense, though I practice mostly in the Fourth Circuit, not the Ninth.

The "clearly established" standard is a way for courts to keep these kinds of suits from dinging innocent state employees. Basically, not only does the employee have to violate someone's right, but it has to have been pretty much unreasonable for the employee to think ze wasn't violating that right. Here, in fact, the panel didn't even hold that the kid had a right not to have this stuff said to him. So this case won't be precedent for future cases to reach back and say, "Well, as of the time the Corbett opinion was issued, the right not to have a teacher make fun of your religious beliefs was clearly established."

There are several other possible doctrines for protecting an employee in such a situation, and they're all salutary.

Re:Clearly Established: a useful standard. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153432)

I am a lawyer, and about a third of my cases are representing state employees, and about a third of those involve cases with a "clearly established" defense, though I practice mostly in the Fourth Circuit, not the Ninth. The "clearly established" standard is a way for courts to keep these kinds of suits from dinging innocent state employees. Basically, not only does the employee have to violate someone's right, but it has to have been pretty much unreasonable for the employee to think ze wasn't violating that right. Here, in fact, the panel didn't even hold that the kid had a right not to have this stuff said to him. So this case won't be precedent for future cases to reach back and say, "Well, as of the time the Corbett opinion was issued, the right not to have a teacher make fun of your religious beliefs was clearly established." There are several other possible doctrines for protecting an employee in such a situation, and they're all salutary.

Don't you lawyers understand the notion of good intentions paving a road to Hell? You don't even have to believe in a Hell to understand that a lot of well-meaning but very stupid people do more damage than malicious people could ever imagine. When they do this under the aegis of government it's worse still. Does common sense like this evaporate when you learn enough Latin terms for it?

We should have done it the other way. Gone the other direction. Made it so a government employee is much more accountable, operates under many more restrictions, and can be punished far more easily than a private-sector worker.

If they don't like that they can always stop working for the government. This is particularly true for cops who wield a ton of power and for teachers who influence a lot of young impressionable minds. Again if they don't want the extra scrutiny and accountability they can always take jobs where the consequences for incompetence don't have such long-lasting effects.

Ze? (0)

jfengel (409917) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153460)

I've never actually heard one of those neuter pronouns used in real speech. I've seen them in "Hey, somebody should invent a neuter pronoun" articles, but never in real life.

I'd love to see it catch on in the legal community. Lawyers are used to stilted language aimed at increasing precision. (Whether they really succeed or not is a different question.) That would be a good place to introduce an awkward new word that we really need.

Double Standard (1)

TelavianX (1888030) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153146)

Why is it that teaching against religion is protected speech, but if the teacher were to favor religion then that is not protected?

Re:Double Standard (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153222)

because the religions have no basis in fact? And evolution is SCIENCE and therefore entirely appropriate to a SCIENCE class and made up BS from 2000+ years ago has no business inside a SCIENCE classroom. Maybe a world history class, a religions class, or a class on logical fallacies and mass psychology?

Re:Double Standard (1)

White Flame (1074973) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153278)

And what does that have to do with freedom or protection of speech?

Re:Double Standard (1)

TelavianX (1888030) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153302)

The whole idea is the same as that for Global Warming. One argument is allowed, but the opposite is not. I lose all respect for "scientists" when they claim that the debate is over and everything is settled. Science doesn't establish truth. It simply establishes what is observable. There is a huge difference between the two. In any case, debate between two ideas is quite healthy.

Re:Double Standard (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153322)

" the teacher's hostile remarks about creationism and religious faith "

This has nothing to do with the subject and everything to do with the teacher being on a soapbox.

Re:Double Standard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153336)

rtfa. It was a history class, not a science class. And he didn't just say 'creationism has no basis in fact.' He actually mocked religion. Not cool, not in taxpayer funded schools. If you can't be even handed about topics like religion in that sort of context you shouldn't cover them at all.

Re:Double Standard (1)

quasius (1075773) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153352)

You can teach science without attacking religion. (Although you may be indirectly attacking it.) Why bother? Because a teacher (as an authority figure) publicly attacking a part of some of his students' identities is out-of-line. He should focus less on "being right" and more on serving his students. Beating them over the head with SCIENCE! presented as opposed to something they identify with is not helping anyone.

Re:Double Standard (4, Insightful)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153306)

If you have to ask the question then you don't understand the real issue.

Religious belief is 100% completely unprovable and relies on "faith" and good feelings as confirmation instead of tests and observation. (I would be wrong but is there a "god test" that can be performed to prove the existence?)

Religious people see this as "two sides opposing" because "everyone believes in something." That is also ridiculous. People who want to know and understand seek to learn by evidence, testing and experimentation. Religion offers none of this. In the end, religion fosters an end of knowledge in favor of belief. If there are two opposing sides of the issue, it is "persuit of knowledge" vs "belief." But no one on the religious side wants to admit that is the truth.

Re:Double Standard (1)

poena.dare (306891) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153400)

In essence the teacher said what you said.

Here's what quoted in TFA:

"Aristotle ... argued, you know, there sort of has to be a God. Of course thatâ(TM)s nonsense,â Corbett said according to a transcript of his lecture. âoeI mean, thatâ(TM)s what you call deductive reasoning, you know. And you hear it all the time with people who say, âWell, if all this stuff that makes up the universe is here, something must have created it.â(TM) Faulty logic. Very faulty logic.â

He continued: âoeThe other possibility is, itâ(TM)s always been there. ... Your call as to which one of those notions is scientific and which one is magic.â

âoeAll Iâ(TM)m saying is that, you know, the people who want to make the argument that God did it, there is as much evidence that God did it as there is that there is a giant spaghetti monster living behind the moon who did it,â the transcript says.

Corbett told his students that âoerealâ scientists try to disprove the theory of evolution. âoeContrast that with creationists,â he told his students. âoeThey never try to disprove creationism. Theyâ(TM)re all running around trying to prove it. Thatâ(TM)s deduction. Itâ(TM)s not science. Scientifically, itâ(TM)s nonsense.â

All he criticized was faulty logic, magical thinking, and deduction as science. I see nothing here that denigrates a specific religion.

Re:Double Standard (3, Insightful)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153390)

Why is it that teaching against religion is protected speech, but if the teacher were to favor religion then that is not protected?

It is an interesting question. If you look at the transcript, you will see that what was said did stay within the bounds of science, in that there was no statement that there was no God; just that there is no scientific proof of creationism and that the methodology of creationists does not meet scientific standards. He then continued to talk about the history of the dispute about teaching creationism in schools.

What is bizarre is that this is exactly what the creationists want - to teach the controversy [wikipedia.org] . The trouble is that if you start asking scientifically minded people to do this then you are bound to end up with them teaching the flaws in creationism.

Re:Double Standard - no (1)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153570)

Why is it that teaching against religion is protected speech, but if the teacher were to favor religion then that is not protected?

Addressing the second part of your query first: to favor one religion is implicitly or explicitly to denigrate other religions and the lack of a religion, and thus would constitute a form of slander [wikipedia.org] . It would also contravene (in any state-supported environment in the US) the Establishment clause [wikipedia.org] of the first amendment to the US constitution. Favoring creationist viewpoints would be to favor a very narrow selection of religions, and to impugn others - some religions are anti-creatonist [wikipedia.org] by their own dogma.

As to the first part of your query: that is not what the court decided. The teacher was not teaching against religion per se, but against the promulgation of self-evident nonsense masquerading as science and supporting a particular religious viewpoint. He apparently described creationism as "superstitious nonsense", which is neither attacking religion nor stating an untruth (incidentally, truth is an absolute defence against slander in the US). Here [scientificamerican.com] is a short summary of scientific viewpoints on various creationist arguments.

Law's unclear? (1)

cmv1087 (2426970) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153166)

The article says the judges are giving the teacher immunity because there's no current clear precedent in law for this being unconstitutional, so the teacher wouldn't have known his comments might be unconstitutional.

The San Francisco-based appeals court said the teacher was entitled to immunity because it was not clearly established in the law that a teacher’s expression of hostility to certain religious beliefs in a public school classroom would violate the First Amendment’s establishment clause.

They never ruled on whether his comments were actually unconstitutional or not. Just that there wasn't fair warning that it might not be. Rather than let it be, why aren't they using this case to make that precedent? Or am I missing something?

ahem (0)

shentino (1139071) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153180)

It's one thing to hold views on religion, or lack thereof.

It's quite another to use your position as a government agent to provide yourself with a soapbox, period.

Let alone to an audience of the very young, impressionable minds we are trusting the government to educate in the absence of their parents. In loco parentis.

This teacher was out of line for criticizing religion, and would have been just as out of line promoting it.

Bottom line is that when she is on duty as a teacher and the meter is running for the taxpayers, she is acting on behalf of the government and as such is obliged to restrain herself accordingly.

Re:ahem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153256)

Isnt she supposed to teach? I mean are we not supposed to teach that the world is round as well?

Prayer in School (1, Insightful)

readin (838620) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153184)

So we have to assume if a teacher or football coach or principal leads a class, football team or entire school in prayer that person would be similarly entitled to immunity?

Interesting quote from TFA:

In the 1994 case, the Ninth Circuit ruled that religious neutrality required that the biology teacher’s positive views of religious ideas must be excluded from public school instruction. But in 2011, a different panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled that the history teacher’s hostile views of religion and faith must be permitted to protect the “robust exchange of ideas in education.”

It looks like the Ninth Circuit is hostile to religion and faith. They clearly didn't get that from the First Amendment.

Re:Prayer in School (1)

quasius (1075773) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153274)

So we have to assume if a teacher or football coach or principal leads a class, football team or entire school in prayer that person would be similarly entitled to immunity? Interesting quote from TFA:

In the 1994 case, the Ninth Circuit ruled that religious neutrality required that the biology teacher’s positive views of religious ideas must be excluded from public school instruction. But in 2011, a different panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled that the history teacher’s hostile views of religion and faith must be permitted to protect the “robust exchange of ideas in education.”

It looks like the Ninth Circuit is hostile to religion and faith. They clearly didn't get that from the First Amendment.

Turns out a lot of people only like two-sided policies when they coincide with their beliefs / desires / agendas. I don't think ID has any place in schools, but neither does a *teacher making fun of a student for anything.* Holy shit, kids are already so damn cruel to each other at that age. The teacher should be setting an example against that, not throwing out his own barbs. I'm not sure he needed to be sued (teacher shouldn't have to be on pins and needles all the time), but I am sure he was out of line.

Good (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153576)

Religion makes people dangerous. Faith makes people willing to fly planes into buildings and murder thousands of innocent civilians at the behest of evil humans that set themselves up as the voice of god. Faith makes people blow up clinics. It makes people seek to deny fundamental human rights from their neighbors (like the right to love and marry who one chooses).

Believing in God would be fine if it didn't include believing in whatever evil things some voice-of-god humans have to say.

interpret the ruling (4, Informative)

cellocgw (617879) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153206)

Seems to me, from the brief notes in TFA, that the judge suggested it was ok to say that creationists were completely failing to follow scientific principles in claiming their position was correct. The teacher didn't directly attack religion, just the absurd methodology of the religious folks in this case.

Re:interpret the ruling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153500)

It doesn't matter, if you're free to practice any religion you want, then you should be free to dislike any religion you want as well. Normally I would applaud any student that questions his teacher, but suing is not learning, it's just intent to harm, nothing good comes out of it.

Sad part is, this teacher will have a shaky position in that school, and when some restructuring comes he'll find himself flipping burgers for a living. Other teachers will censor themselves even more, making a poor educational system even poorer.

mynuts won; taking the babys home (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153210)

f we fail to care for them appropriately, they will be gone, leaving us
with....., whatever this anti-life place has become?

disarm. read the teepeeleaks etchings. the rehearsal is over.

--
This mess has been scanned for viruses and
dangerous content by MailScanner, and is
believed to be clean.

That's the joke, Ted. (1)

ThisIsSaei (2397758) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153216)

I'm somewhat torn between two viewpoints; help me out here. Side 1: The immunity provided in precedent by this ruling applies to all teachers, all subjects, and all opinions. This implies that Texas schools, where classes are taught both the popular scientific opinion and the popular Judeo-Christian origin myth, are protected - and to revel in this court ruling while speaking out against the inclusion of religious mythos would be contradictory. (i.e. "It's good when courts protect my opinion, but screw other opinions.") Side 2: The scientific method doesn't provide things 'as is' in any case. It is a method of observation, and the data can be - and is - used to argue differing opinions. (Not to mention arguments about observational accuracy, testing method bias, differing results, etc.) This separates the origin myths from the current scientific opinion categorically, and the same protections don't apply to both. (i.e. "I observed/tested/proved this, it doesn't go in the same box as your faith.") The argument just keeps going back and forth in my head. I could use some input.

Basic professionalism (0)

White Flame (1074973) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153250)

As a teacher, you shouldn't insult your student's views in front of class, no matter the subject. On the flipside, if you do it's nonsense that it should bring a lawsuit.

Re:Basic professionalism (1)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153584)

As a teacher, you shouldn't insult your student's views in front of class, no matter the subject.

True, unless it intersects with the subject matter being taught. If a student in a history class doesn't believe in Napoleon, should the teacher refrain from saying that he did exist in case it hurts the student's feelings?

Science classes should be able to mention the creationism debate because it is a great example of what is and isn't science. It gives a real world example of the scientific method.

Only religion (1)

houghi (78078) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153252)

or also about sects like Scientology?

Re:Only religion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153540)

Sects education should be up to the parents

Wrongly decided (1)

Fished (574624) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153288)

The fact that there may not have been a previous decision to warn the teacher that this was unacceptable behavior doesn't mean that htis behavior was acceptable, and the court shouldn't have ducked the issue in this way. Moreover, when the issue has been teacher who were presenting their religious views rather than their atheistic views, the 9th circuit has not ducked the issue in this way. The "giant spaghetti monster" line that the teacher used is not a neutral symbol, but a deliberate and overt attack on Christian belief. He should not be allowed to present such material in a classroom context if a Christian creationist is not allowed to present their beliefs in a classroom context.

Re:Wrongly decided (1)

colnago (91472) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153478)

Yes, this passage surprised me:

“We are aware of no prior case holding that a teacher violated the establishment clause by appearing critical of religion during class lectures, nor any case with sufficiently similar facts to give a teacher ‘fair warning’ that such conduct was unlawful"

I am not a judge, but I'm thinking it's their opportunity and their job to be the first ruling in a case like this. Someone has to establish precedent.

Re:Wrongly decided (1)

xyourfacekillerx (939258) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153482)

I'm sure you're a troll, but let me also point out what was wrong with the ruling. The judges decided that the teacher couldn't be sued for hostile religious remarks, because no law has been created making it clear what remarks constitute religious establishment, and moreover no court cases have been decided which make the division between religious and non-religious remarks clear.

In effect, the judges are saying:

1) "We can't decide if this violates the first amendment, because no law has been passed stating this violates the first amendment."
2) "We can't make a ruling whether this violates the first amendment, because there has been no ruling stating this violates the first amendment."
Problem with 1) is yes there has been a law passed, it's called the First Amendment!. Problem with 2) is, it amounts to preventing judicial precedent ever. The court can't set precedent because no precedent has been set? Wtf is that?

Note that NOTHING I HAVE SAID supports Creationism, Christianity, spaghetti monsters, or detracts from science. In consideration of my views, notice they are restricted in scope to the legal ruling, and nothing else. Don't go associating me with creationists by virtue of the fact I disagree with the ruling for technical reasons.

Re:Wrongly decided (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153536)

The "giant spaghetti monster" line that the teacher used is not a neutral symbol, but a deliberate and overt attack on Christian belief.

No, it is not. It is a form of argumentation called "reductio ad absurdum", and it is an attack on the form of logic used by Thomas Aquinas in his attempts at proving the existence of God, or of creationists in their attempts at explaining intelligent design.

A religion is founded in belief. Belief does not constitute a valid basis for a scientific theory.

Does anybody even understand the Constitution? (2)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153290)

The decision stems from a lawsuit filed by a student charging that the teacherâ(TM)s hostile remarks about creationism and religious faith violated a First Amendment mandate that the government remain neutral in matters of religion.

1. Yes, if the school is public then the salary of the teacher is paid from taxes, however it's not necessary that the taxes are Federal in nature, though of-course States cannot dismiss parts of US Constitution as it stands (but they can and need to challenge the federal government that it is not following the US Constitution, but that's a different topic).

2. No, even if the teacher was clearly a government representative, his remarks do not violate anything in the Constitution. His remarks are in fact his own opinion and are also free speech and thus government cannot prevent the teacher from expressing his views, which is his right.

3. If the teacher used his attitude towards the religions to discriminate against people, and by discriminate I mean apply government power against them in any way based on their religious associations, then it would have been a violation.

The appeals court side-stepped the question of whether Dr. Corbettâ(TM)s comment on creationism and other derogatory remarks about religious faith were unconstitutional.

They should not have sidestepped it, seems like the judge didn't want to pass any real ruling here, he didn't want to be on record. Shows how weak and pathetic the justice system has become.

Instead, the panel concluded that since Corbett was entitled to qualified immunity it was not necessary for the appeals court to determine whether his comments actually violated the Constitution.

What is this magic immunity? Is it the right to free speech, because that's the only real immunity.

--
Everybody is wrong in this case, the teacher shouldn't be trolling his obviously religious students, the students shouldn't be starting these frivolous lawsuits and the judge should grow a pair.

Amen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153296)

If the student has any bone in his body then he should file a second lawsuit against the goverment based on the same supposed violation against this First Amendment mandate that the government remain neutral in matters of religion. But this time for printing 'In god We Trust" on every dollar bill.

What is good for the Goose... (1)

Petron (1771156) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153298)

Separation of Church and State was added to prevent the government from telling you what to believe. This has expanded to the point where a teacher can't express their own religious views because that would be teaching religion... and if the teacher is paid by the government...

But now it's OK to tell people what NOT to believe when it comes to religion? The state should not be trying to sway people towards or away from any religion period. It should be up to individual, and they shouldn't be ridiculed or pressured by a state official to pick something else.

I see. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153300)

Sorry, I am not an American, but if there is a First Amendment mandate that the government must remain neutral in matters of religion, why is "in God we Trust" printed on the money?

Re:I see. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153592)

Because a bunch of whiny little snots kept making trouble until we printed it there. So we did, just to shut them up.

It didn't work.

Science or religion? It can't be both! (4, Interesting)

Swoopy (101558) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153344)

So is creationism science, or is it religion?
I thought that creationists argued that their ideas were "scientific" or was that the intelligent designers?
Anyway, either it's a religion, the basis for the creationists' case here, and would therefore have no place in a proper education system to begin with,
or creationism is a science, giving it a place in the education system but allowing teacher to have & express a negative opinion about it.
This seems the kind of circular reasoning we've come to expect from creationists and intteligent design proponents, in yet another interesting new form.

The court answered the wrong question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153388)

The court's decision judged the teacher in the context of teaching critical thinking skills.

"All I'm saying is that, you know, the people who want to make the argument that God did it, there is as much evidence that God did it as there is that there is a giant spaghetti monster living behind the moon who did it," the transcript says.

That's hard to answer using logic but what about the people who have an epiphany? The answer is revealed to them. They, all of a sudden, just know. Their problem they have with everyone else is the same one you would experience trying to explain red to a tribe of color blind people.

The unanswered question is whether critical thinking skills are appropriate for evaluating something like religion or art. The judges, who make their living using their critical thinking skills, may not even have considered that possibility.

Yes, I realize that people use their critical thinking skills to create and evaluate art and music. The result seems to have been some pretty darn inaccessible stuff like Arnold Schoenberg's twelve tone music. Religion and art are probably best dealt with by the right brain and less well understood by the left brain.

Why not both? (0)

JustNiz (692889) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153394)

As a Christian I believe God originally created life on earth. Its also obvious to me that he created and uses Evolution to maintain and improve it.

Re:Why not both? (1)

myowntrueself (607117) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153512)

God could have created the universe with an infinite past; just because God created the universe doesn't mean that there has to be a 'starting point' in time which us humans can point to as 'creation'. God is bigger than time, so to speak.

Wow, totally wrong. (1)

xyourfacekillerx (939258) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153402)

Look guys, the point isn't whether teachers are liable for teaching perceived truth, i.e. stating "God does not exist" vs. "God does exist". The First Amendment doesn't say government is permitted to take a side on religious issues when it aligns itself with perceived truth (at one time perceived truth was "God exists", remember?) the First Amendment is that government must have no opinion whatsoever.

And for those of you who think this is a science vs. religious issue, bear in mind that religion is outside the scope of science. No hypothesis can be tested that asserts "Adam and Eve were not created by God in six days". No way you can test that. No scientific method can verify it. Thus, any claim to that, has nothing to do with science. Sure, you can argue on the side of "default belief" and "apparent evolution" and what-not, but those are not experiments, those are not scientifically rigorous arguments, they are just philosophical asides. Stating "God does not exist" is not an exercise in science, it is in fact an exercise in religious discourse.

Re:Wow, totally wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153488)

you are ridiculous. it is a straight forward scientific inference that claims about adam and eve are false. unless you think there is some point to clamoring on about useless metaphysics. In the most basic sense, the hypothesis put forward in the oldest most authentic religious texts thon creation have been falsified for nearly every practical interpretation. You can argue all you want about myth and allegory, but so far as we can define the hypothesis, they have been falsified.

Noone read the summary much less the article. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37153414)

To almost everyone who has posted, the court did not rule on the constitutional issue. They dismissed the suit because there was no grounds in law to sue the INDIVIDUAL teacher. The law, from what I understand, granted the teacher immunity from being sued. Meanwhile there was a post further up which explains this in much more detail.

I sympathize with the teacher, BUT... (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 3 years ago | (#37153416)

She works for the government. She should neither disparage nor encourage religious viewpoints. Preferably, she should not discuss the matter of religion at all. As for creationism, it's not science (i.e. not a falsifiable theory backed by evidence) and has no place in a public classroom. The right answer is, "don't discuss it there."

Mythic explanations for creation are a dime a dozen and popular ones can be heard every Sunday in the USA. Virtually all children are exposed to them. Some will recover. Others not.

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