SANTA ANA (CN) – A federal judge has ruled that a high school teacher’s description of “creationism” as “pseudo-science” is a violation of the constitutional rule separating church and state, subjecting the European history teacher to liability in a suit brought by a Southern California Christian group.
A student in the affluent, coastal town of San Juan Capistrano claimed that his advanced placement teacher, who taught European history and advised the student newspaper, made comments that were critical of religion. A Christian advocacy group in the less affluent, inland community of Murrieta took up his cause.
The group called “Advocates for Faith and Freedom” represented the student’s parents Bill and Teresa Farnan in their suit against the school district and teacher Dr. James Corbett.
The California Teachers Association and Capistrano Unified Education Association intervened as defendants in the action, and both sides asked for summary judgment. The student is called “C.F.” in the initial complaint but referred to in the ruling simply as “Farnan.”
Judge James Selna who is based in Santa Ana found that most of the statements found objectionable by Farnan were in fact not hostile to Christianity.
The student had objected, for example, to the teacher’s comments regarding the availability of birth control pills at middle school health centers. The teacher, Corbett, said abstinence-only policies do not work. The judge found that those statements do not touch upon religion and do not violate the Establishment Clause.
“A statement by a government official does not violate the Establishment Clause merely because a particular religious group may find the official’s position incorrect or offensive. Such a finding would require a teacher to tailor his comments so as not to offend or disagree with any religious group,” wrote the judge.
The ruling, issued earlier this month and subsequently made available, includes an analysis of several lengthy statements made by Corbett. But one in particular brought the judge’s attention. It involved criticism of a fellow teacher who had earlier sued Corbett because Corbett was an advisor to a student newspaper that suggested the fellow teacher, named John Peloza, was inculcating religion.
“Corbett explained to his class that Peloza, a teacher, ‘was not telling kids the scientific truth about evolution’,” said the ruling. “Corbett also told his students that, in response to a request to give Peloza space in the newspaper to present his point of view, Corbett stated ‘I will not leave John Peloza alone to propagandize kids with this religious, superstitious nonsense’.”
The judge concluded that Corbett’s statement expresses “an unequivocal belief that creationism is `superstitious nonsense’.”
“The court cannot discern a legitimate secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context,” said Selna in his ruling. “The statement therefore constitutes improper disapproval of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.”
As a result, the judge granted the student’s motion for motion for summary judgment against the teacher with respect to the statement saying creationism is superstitious nonsense. He ruled in favor the school district and the unions on all the other statements and on the issue of the school district’s liability.
The student and his parents are represented by Jennifer Lynn Monk at Advocates for Faith and Freedom out of Murrieta. Defendant is represented by Michael Hersh from the California Teachers Association.