Sleaze and controversy from the American Freedom Association and Discovery Institute

Two years ago, a California science foundation gave permission to to the American Freedom Alliance (“freedom” is like “family” in these organizations; when you see it, you should be instantly suspicious) to show a movie in their IMAX theater. The film was titled “Darwin’s Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record”, and it was an Intelligent Design propaganda piece. This happens fairly often; these sleazy organizations love to present the illusion of being scientific, so they like to rent out halls in museums and universities in order to put on their shows. The physics auditorium on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus is apparently a very popular venue for just that reason. But it does not imply any endorsement of the content of the movie by the venue owner — it’s being rented as a public exhibition space, nothing more.

Unfortunately, in this case the AFA and their co-enablers, the Discovery Institute (Hiss! Spit! Booooo!) did their very best to misrepresent this showing as an endorsement by the California Science Center Foundation. The DI was involved; you know they wanted to stir up controversy, because that’s what they do. And they got it: the foundation cancelled the showing over the false representations of endorsement. So the AFA sued them, again, exactly as the DI wanted.

The lawsuit has now been settled. The AFA and DI have nothing to do but harrass with lawyers, while the foundation has the work of running a legitimate science institution to do, so they settled with an agreement (a rather contrived agreement) that they’d offer to host a movie, the AFA would agree to decline, and that the Foundation’s insurance company would pay the defense’s court cost to spare further litigation. And of course neither side would admit fault.

The AFA and Discovery Institute has violated the agreement, as you’d expect. They’re now bragging about their victory.

“Even though the AFA has no interest in returning to the IMAX theater, they at least feel by being invited back they have been vindicated. The invitation represents a form of apology,” said attorney William J. Becker Jr., who represented the alliance.

The court agreement says there is to be no admission of fault, but the AFA lawyer is claiming the California Science Foundation has apologized to them?

The Discovery Institute and their pet mini-lawyer, Casey Luskin, also declare victory.

“This is an historic victory for the ID movement,” said Casey Luskin, an attorney and policy analyst with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture. “The First Amendment forbids government preference for one viewpoint over another, yet evidence disclosed in this case shows the CSC, Smithsonian Institution, and LA County Museum of Natural History attempted to stifle dissent from Darwinism. The result was illegal state-sponsored suppression of protected speech.”

Errm, they allowed the AFA to book the IMAX theater to show the movie; the reason they shut it down was that the Discovery Institute lied and misrepresented the position of the science foundation. And then there’s this:

“This is the first free speech case for the ID movement, and its first victory in that field,” said Becker. “This settlement represents an acknowledgement that a state-owned science institution sought to censor an event solely because it related to ID. It’s a vindication for ID, and First Amendment guarantees of free speech.”

There they go again, lying and misrepresenting. The case was dismissed with no admission of fault from either side. It’s not a victory for anyone, other than the lawyers.

You’re better off reading the California Science Center Foundation’s response.

The dispute arose out of unapproved press releases that had been issued relating to a private event that the AFA had intended to hold at the California Science Center’s IMAX Theater. The press releases, for which AFA was responsible, falsely implied that the Foundation or the Science Center were sponsors of the AFA’s event. They were not, and as a result of these false and misleading press releases, the Foundation cancelled the AFA’s event.

The AFA then sued the Foundation and the Science Center for breach of contract and violation of the First Amendment, claiming that the Foundation’s cancellation was based upon the purported content of the AFA’s program. This was not the case, and the evidence demonstrated that the Foundation was right. Indeed, the fact that the Foundation booked the AFA’s event in the first place affirmatively demonstrated the lack of merit to AFA’s argument.

Through discovery, the Foundation also discovered other evidence that undermined AFA’s claims. For instance, although the AFA asserted that the offending press releases were issued by an entirely independent third party (the Discovery Institute), it was uncovered that the AFA and the Discovery Institute actually had been secretly coordinating the publicity efforts and were intentionally trying to make the publicity that led to the cancellation as provocative and controversial as possible. One email among Discovery Institute individuals talked about “letting the jinnie out of the bottle” when “all hell will break lose.” The Foundation was certainly entitled to cancel the AFA’s private event.

There is a lesson to be learned here. It’s not the one the Discovery Institute thinks; this is not vindication for intelligent design (Seriously? This is where they find ‘vindication’, in lawsuits?), nor does it open the door for Intelligent Design creationism advocates to play this game of charades with presenting their movies in scientific venues.

It shows once again that creationists are liars, and that they’re also nasty litigious scumbags who deal in bad faith. If the AFA or the Discovery Institute approached your institution asking to lease an auditorium for a night, call your lawyers right away. Lock down any agreement as tightly as possible, and make it clear and unambiguous that any of the kind of crap they pulled in California will get them shut down. You might also want to consult your insurers right now and ask what can be done to protect you from the kinds of frivolous lawsuits over ‘controversies’ that organizations like the Discovery Institute will gin up in the future.

You might want to think about this prescient comment from Eugenie Scott in 2009:

But another correspondent, Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, which champions evolution in clashes over which theory should be taught in public schools, urged “NOT asking the museum to cancel the showing of the movie. Really — the story that ‘big science is trying to squelch controversy . . . ‘ is going to be a bigger story and draw more attention to the movie’s showing than the showing itself.”

That’s what these creationist organizations want. In a lot of ways, they’re exactly like the Westboro Baptist Church, thriving on noise and lies.

(Also on FtB)