Thursday, September 1, 2011

Conservatives Lose a Freedom of Religion Case Against a Teacher on Creationism

Wow, 9th Circuit Ruling May Give Teachers Some of the Same Rights as Corporations

Conservatives have long argued the “free speech issue” and “freedom of religion” issue to get favorable rulings on things they want, like government support of religion in school and financial support of religious schools..  In fact, Conservatives seem to adore free speech and freedom of religion, except for those occasions when people want to do what Conservatives don't want, like wanting to build a mosque.

In the case in California iswhere a high school student wanted to sue a teacher for violating his rights in an Advanced Placement History course for making disparaging remarks about religion.  The case was recently decided by a panel of judges in the federal appeals court.

_____________________________________________

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
C.F., by and through his parents ü
TERESA FARNAN and BILL FARNAN,
Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
CAPISTRANO UNIFIED SCHOOL
DISTRICT; DR. JAMES CORBETT, No. 09-56689
individually and in his official capacity as an employee of ý D.C. No. Capistrano Unified School District, 8:07-cv-01434-
Defendants-Appellees, JVS-AN
and
CALIFORNIA TEACHERS
ASSOCIATION/NEA; CAPISTRANO
UNIFIED EDUCATION ASSOCIATION,
Intervenors-Appellees. þ

_______________________________________________

 The issue was whether or not the teacher could be sued for remarks that the teacher made that the student found offensive.

Now an interesting thing one finds upon reading the decision is that indeed the remarks of the teacher were offensive.  Whether or not they were meant to be provocative to stimulate discussion or were just plain opinionated is not known, but they were definitely offensive.  So plaintiff Farnan wanted to sue saying the offensive remarks violated the Consitution's prohibition of establishment of religion.

Based on these statements and others discussed in the district
court order, see Farnan I, 615 F. Supp. 2d at 1142-53,
Farnan filed suit under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 alleging
that Corbett and the District violated the Establishment
Clause.

So the issue was whether or not a teacher making disparaging remarks about religion  was in violation of the Constitution’s prohibition against government establishment of religion.  The Court reaffirmed the principle here,

statements exhibiting some hostility to religion
do not violate the Establishment Clause if the government
conduct at issue has a secular purpose, does not have as its
principal or primary effect inhibiting religion and does not
foster excessive government entanglement with religion

In the end, the Court concluded that the teacher was entitled to “qualified immunity” because there was no precedent that could be invoked against his teachings.  The Court did not rule on the constitutionality of the teacher’s statements, but clearly thought they were protected and did not “establish religion”. 

The best conclusion is from a conservative group

In other words, the fact that something that’s said in a classroom challenges your beliefs doesn’t mean you have a right not to hear

Reading the case a reasonable person, i.e., The Dismal Political Economist, would conclude that the teacher probably should not have been as inflammatory as he was.  But freedom of religion and free speech are not always pretty, see a Karl Rove produced political commercial for example, as ugly a vision of free speech that you will find, and all sanctioned by the Supreme Court.

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