Judge rules irreligious public school teacher violated First Amendment

.- A federal judge has ruled that a California public high school teacher who made denigrating remarks about religion and Christianity violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment when he called creationism “superstitious nonsense.”

James Corbett, an Advanced Placement European history teacher at Capistrano Valley High School, was also accused of saying “when you put on your Jesus glasses, you can't see the truth.” He allegedly compared prayers for divine intervention to hopes that the “spaghetti monster” will “help you get what you want.” Corbett, who has taught for 20 years, also said “Conservatives don't want women to avoid pregnancies — that's interfering with God's work.”

However, U.S. District Judge James Selna ruled that only Corbett’s comment calling creationism “religious, superstitious nonsense” violated the constitutional rights of former student Chad Farnan.

According to Corbett’s attorney Dan Spradlin, the remark about creationism came during a classroom discussion about a 1993 case in which a former Capistrano Valley High science teacher sued the school district because it required instruction in evolution. Spradlin said Corbett expressed his own opinion that the former teacher shouldn’t have presented his religious views to students, the Associated Press reports.

Student Chad Farnan filed suit in 2007 alleging that Corbett violated the First Amendment by repeatedly making comments hostile to Christian beliefs. Farnan’s lawsuit presented more than 20 statements reportedly made by Corbett during one day of class to support allegations that the teacher used a broader teaching method that “favors irreligion over religion” and made Christian students feel uncomfortable.

Judge Selna found that most of the statements cited did not violate the First Amendment because they did not refer directly to religion or were appropriate in the context of the classroom lecture.

On May 1 the judge ruled that Dr. Corbett’s statement about creationism “constitutes improper disapproval of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.”

He said the ruling reflects “the constitutionally permissible need for expansive discussion even if a given topic may be offensive to a particular religion” but also reflects “that there are boundaries.”

“The ruling today protects Farnan, but also protects teachers like Corbett in carrying out their teaching duties,” Judge Selna said.

Farnan’s attorney, Jennifer Monk of the Murrieta-based Christian legal group Advocates for Faith & Freedom, said her client is not interested in monetary damages. However, he plans to ask the court to prohibit Corbett from making similar comments in the future.

Monk added that the student’s family would like to see the school district offer teacher training and monitor Corbett’s classroom for future violations.

She said there were no plans to appeal the judge’s rulings on the other statements cited in the lawsuit.

"They lost, he violated the establishment clause," Monk told the Associated Press. "From our perspective, whether he violated it with one statement or with 19 statements is irrelevant."


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