Monday, May 4, 2009

FEDERAL JUDGE PUNISHES TEACHER FOR CALLING CREATIONISM 'NONSENSE'

Orange County Register, CA - A Mission Viejo high school history teacher violated the First Amendment by disparaging Christians during a classroom lecture, a federal judge ruled today. James Corbett, a 20-year teacher at Capistrano Valley High School, was found guilty of referring to Creationism as "religious, superstitious nonsense" during a 2007 classroom lecture, denigrating his former Advanced Placement European history student, Chad Farnan.

The decision is the culmination of a 16-month legal battle between Corbett and Farnan – a conflict the judge said should remind teachers of their legal "boundaries" as public school employees.

"Corbett states an unequivocal belief that Creationism is 'superstitious nonsense,'" U.S. District Court Judge James Selna said in a 37-page ruling released from his Santa Ana courtroom. "The court cannot discern a legitimate secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context."

In a December 2007 lawsuit, Farnan, then a sophomore, accused Corbett of repeatedly promoting hostility toward Christians in class and advocating "irreligion over religion" in violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause.

The establishment clause prohibits the government from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion" and has been interpreted by U.S. courts to also prohibit government employees from displaying religious hostility.

"We are thrilled with the judge's ruling and feel it sets great precedent," said Farnan's attorney, Jennifer Monk, who works for the Christian legal group Advocates for Faith & Freedom in Murrieta. "Hopefully, teachers in the future, including Dr. Corbett, will think about what they're saying and attempt to ensure they're not violating the establishment clause as Dr. Corbett has done."

Chad Farnan and his parents did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment, but released a prepared statement through their attorney: "We are proud of Chad's courageous stand and thrilled with the judge's ruling. It is a vindication of his constitutional rights."

Farnan's original lawsuit asked for damages and attorney's fees. These issues – plus a possible court injunction prohibiting Corbett from making hostile remarks about religion – will be considered in court at a future, undetermined date, Monk said. . .

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