KENTUCKY ATHEISTS NEWS & NOTES Date: May 24, 2009
Kentucky Atheists, P.O. Box 666, Union, KY 41091; Email: [email protected]
Phone: (859) 384-7000; Fax: (859) 384-7324; Web: http://www.atheists.org/ky/
Editor’s personal web site: www.edwinkagin.com
Editor’s personal blog: http://edwinkagin.blogspot.com
Edwin Kagin, Kentucky State Director, American Atheists, Inc.
(AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for nonbelievers; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.)
What Is An ATHEIST?
“ANOTHER THINKING HUMAN ENGAGED IN SEEKING TRUTH”
(Edwin Kagin, 2008)
To Unidentified Recipients:
“Answers in Atheism,” the international Internet radio talk show sensation, is now on live weekly (usually / often / when we can do it) on Sundays at 8:00 pm. Eastern Time.
For finding out if it will (should) be on, and for listening to it and for call in information, see: www.answersinatheism.net
This week’s offering is (should be): Brad Cupples, Playwright, Blasphemer, Fighter of Beasts.
Introducing Mr. Eric 0. Husby, Esq.
The owner of this improbable name is a young Florida lawyer who seems willing to risk ruining his life and reputation by helping out in causes touching on keeping the paws of religion out of the bowels of our government that is supposed to serve all of We the People. We welcome him to the American Religious Civil War (ARCW). There follows what we hope will be only the first in a great series of clever and informative articles.
NB. He is reported to be single. Email available upon appropriate application.
Legal News Brief
California Court Finds Teacher Liable for Calling Christian Creationism “Superstitious Nonsense.”
By: Eric O. Husby, Esq. May 6, 2009
On May 1, 2009, the United States District Court for the Central District of California decided the case of C.F. v. Capistrano Unified School District. In Capistrano, the court held that a California public high school teacher, Corbett, violated the First Amendment rights of a student, Farnan, by making a comment that disfavored religion (and particularly Christianity).
In finding an Establishment Clause violation, the court applied the classic “Lemon Test.”1 Under the Lemon Test, to be proper, governmental action (including action by a public school teacher) must satisfy each of the following requirements: (1) have a secular purpose; (2) have a principal or primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion; and (3) not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.
During the course of the school year, Corbett made numerous statements which Farnan alleged violate the Establishment Clause. The only comment that the court found constituted a violation involved a classroom discussion in an Advanced Placement (AP) European History class. During that class, Corbett stated an unequivocal belief that Christian Creationism was “superstitious nonsense.” Applying the Lemon Test, the court found that there was no legitimate secular purpose for the statement, even when considered in context, and the statement had the primary effect of inhibiting religion.2
The court went on to address a variety of other comments made by Corbett. Farnan complained about certain of Corbett’s comments regarding the availability of birth control pills at middle school health centers, indicating that abstinence only policies did not work. The court did not analyze explicitly each and every statement, but noted that many of Corbett’s statements indicated a “liberal” versus a “conservative” viewpoint. However, even though the statements might have been antithetical to or offensive to a religious person, statements that did not criticize or mention religion could not support an interpretation that they demonstrated hostility toward or disapproval of religion.
The court explained that a statement does not violate the Establishment Clause merely because a religious person finds them incorrect or offensive. Were that the case, according to the court, teachers and schools would have to navigate a variety religious objections. To eliminate everything offensive to the hundreds of “warring sects” in the United States would be to leave the educational system “in shreds.” This would result in teachers effectively having to teach in accordance with religious principles, which itself would violate the Establishment Clause.
The court examined other statements that “touched on” religion, but nevertheless found that they did not violate the Establishment Clause. The court did not address all of Corbett’s statements explicitly, but provided examples. In one example, Corbett asked in class what a particular student thought about a person who had to lie to make a religious point, and made disparaging comments concerning a college called the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (“BIOLA”). The court found that in context the statements were respectful of the student to whom the question was posed, and Corbett’s criticisms of BIOLA were based on its academics and not primarily religion.
In another example, the court addressed statements that were critical of the Boy Scouts. Corbett called them racist, homophobic and religious, and that meetings of the Boy Scouts at schools violated principles of separation of church and state. The court found that these comments critical of the Boy Scouts and regarding the separation of church and state did not indicate hostility towards religion. The court noted that respect for religion and a strong belief in separation of church and state are not mutually exclusive. Quoting prior United States Supreme Court precedent, the court noted that separation of church and state mandated by the First Amendment “rests upon the premise that both religion and government can best work to achieve their lofty aims if each is left free from the other within its respective sphere. . . . [T]he First Amendment ha[s] erected a wall between Church and State which must be kept high and impregnable.” McCollum v. Board of Ed., 333 U.S. 203, 235 (1948).
The court next addressed the following statement: “What was it that Mark Twain said? ‘Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.’” The remark was part of a historical discussion of the tension between religion and science. Corbett contrasted the continuing search for “rational” explanations when one explanation proves insufficient as opposed to stopping the inquiry in favor of “magic.” Notwithstanding the biting nature of Twain’ s observation, the court found that it illustrated a turn to the non-rational when man cannot, or is unable, to develop a rational solution. The court also found that it was not clear whether Corbett was “espousing” Twain’s view rather than “merely quoting” it.3 Nevertheless, in context, the Court could not find that the primary purpose of the quote was to disparage religion.
The court also addressed one of Corbett’s lectures in which he stated, “when you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.” The court analyzed this statement in the context of the general class discussion. The statement was made in the context of a discussion about how certain peasants did not support Joseph II’s reforms for religious reasons, even though the reforms were in the peasants’ best political and economic interests. Also, the statement may have been intended to show the larger point that people sometimes make choices that are against their best interests for religious reasons and that religion has and can be used as a manipulative tool. The court relied on the principle that courts should be cautious in attributing unconstitutional motives to government officials, and found that in the context of an AP European History course that the comment was not hostile to religion.
The court then addressed Corbett’s discussion of religion and morality. For example, Corbett stated that the people least likely to go to church, the Swedes, had the lowest crime rate in the industrialized world. He called upon students to ask for an explanation about that the next time someone connected religion with morality. The court found this statement could not reasonably be found to be disapproving or hostile to religion because Corbett disclaimed a “causal link” and because the statement was an interesting sociological fact appropriate for discussion.
In conclusion, the court granted summary judgment for Farnan on only one out of the many allegations. The court granted summary judgment for the defendants on all other allegations. The court specifically declined to hold the school district itself liable under the circumstances.
As a guide, the case presents a fairly detailed map for teachers as to what they can and can not say about religion in the classroom (at least in this one district judge’s view). The court appears to have established a bright-line view that is helpful to teachers. While placing a limitation on what a teacher can say about religion, wide latitude is given for teachers to make statements that are critical of, contrary to and even offensive to a particular religion. To be a violation, a statement about religion must be clearly and explicitly disapproving or hostile toward religion, without any other reasonable secular discernable purpose. Merely offensive statements or statements on which a religious person may disagree are insufficient. Statements that merely imply hostility are likewise insufficient. However, where a teacher says that a religion is “superstitious nonsense” for the primary purpose of inhibiting religion, then the court will find a violation. That rule, while perhaps not welcomed with open arms by educators, it appears that the court has at least attempted to craft a rule that most teachers can follow: avoid direct, explicit and hostile attacks on religion that do not have a bearing on the task of educating students.
Since the court ruled for and against each of the parties to the case, any party may be likely to appeal it to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.4
Eric 0. Husby is a Florida attorney and solo practitioner serving primarily Hillsborough and surrounding counties. In addition to private for profit and nonprofit organization clients, Mr. Husby serves as counsel to atheist and freethinker organizations nationwide.
1 The “Lemon Test” is so named because it originated in the United States Supreme Court Case of Lemon v Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971).
2 While the court did not find any excessive entanglement with religion, it nevertheless found a violation of the Establishment Clause because a failure to satisfy either of the first two prongs of test constitutes a violation.
3 The court did not make it clear whether a teacher “espousing” Twain’s views would necessarily be found to have violated the Establishment Clause.
Intelligent Email Department:
The following was received from a person who is, presumably, permitted to vote and to sit on juries:
Name: Anthony Cook
Email: [email protected]
Here is a thought: WHY don’t we have all the athiests move to 4 NW states (because that’s all you can take up in America) and all the christians stay where they are and then just wage war on eachother? See who wins…like in the Civil War. Then the winner can make rules about where people can practice thier religion and where they can’t. You are lost sheep who are big whiney babies because you feel like outsiders when others speak about thier religions. I think anyone can say anything about any religion in public places on the largest megaphone without offending me, so grow up and do the same. If Jewish people were the majority of this coutry and it was founded by jewish forefathers, I would expect that our money and national traditions would have jewish symbolisim, people would make SMALL references to this religion at public events, such as national historic gatherings, graduation cerimonies, and political events. As a minority in this circumstance, I wouldn’t be complaining to the government every 10 minutes like you. If I didn’t like it, I would simply move to a country that wasn’t religious or freaking start my own country instead of trying to ruin this one. Your group acts like a baby brother tattling on an older sister for calling you a meanie poopoo head. When in rome, do as romans. Majority Rules. Get over it and worship yourselves in YOUR own basement while having your seperate schools. Segregate YOURselves, We shouldn’t have to segregate ourselves because of a crybaby group like yours just to Pledge Allegence to the United States of America under God as has been done for 200 years. I don’t care what you believe, you can believe that there isn’t sand on a beach because you have never been to one, but every time your group cries to the government about this and that, just makes you look like little wimpy complainers. Seriously, you need your mommy and daddy to spank your butt for being so retarded and stupid.
P.S. I really like your note about REAL technology, REAL attorneys, and REAL prosecution, now why don’t you get a REAL life. I can say anything I like, where I like, as long as I don’t threaten to kill or Beat the CRAP out someone. OOPS call the cops! I said “Meanie PooPoo Head”! You should be posted in your own HATE MAIL for hating my country’s history and tradition.
-Signed a GREAT LOVER OF AMERICAN TRADITIONS,
Come to my house if you want, we can say the rosary in my basement and leave out all the references of Mary, Jesus, and God. If you do, I’ll donate a dollar to your cause.
And the following reply was sent to this rustic genius by American Atheists President, Ed Buckner:
You misunderstand a core American ideal: individual rights cannot be taken away by a majority, even a large one. If the 70+ per cent majority of white Americans want to deny rights to blacks or Hispanics, they lack that power; if the 51% of Americans who are female want to deny men rights, they cannot, so long as our constitutional principles are in force; etc.
And you don’t know your history, either, or you’d know our nation was founded by people who didn’t want the majority to use the power of government to impose religious ideas on others. And the Pledge of Allegiance wasn’t thought up at all 200 years ago–it was written about 120 years ago and had no reference to God in it at all until 60 or so years later, when Congress unconstitutionally divided “one nation indivisible” with religious claptrap.
I’d suggest you retire to your basement and do some serious reading–you are quite literally unAmerican, profoundly ignorant of American traditions and principles, and apparently don’t even know it.
President, American Atheists