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 Sb)


  1. says

    That’s tough to do. You can’t have a general license agreement that spells out a list of things you will intentionally discriminate against, without discriminating.

    I wonder, though, if there aren’t models for exclusion that could be used. If the KKK asked to lease the IMAX theater, would they do so?

  2. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    Seriously? This is where they find ‘vindication’, in lawsuits?

    Careful with that Axe PZ. I sense a spun Dover tu quoque incoming.

  3. TomG says

    Couldn’t the lease agreement explicitly state that the host is not endorsing any film shown but only providing space, and statements to the contrary by the renter (or a third party) will constitute a breach of the agreement – and will allow the host to deny the space? How could that be discriminatory, if you apply it to everyone who wants to rent space?

  4. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    This sounds like the rental agreement needs a modification. It needs to plainly spell out that attempting to make it sound like the foundation is endorsing any film in any way is breech of contract, with penalties spelled out in advance.

  5. Gus Snarp says

    There are lots of skeptical and atheist causes that need our money, but I’m suddenly struck that perhaps the most important is a legal defense fund. We need a huge pool of money to be used to defend absurd lawsuits like this, because obviously settling lawsuits emboldens the DI and its ilk, and prompts them to declare victory. There should be no settlements, no case should be finished until the absurd legal claims of the creationists are crushed like bugs. This is impractical without money for lawyers, therefore we need a legal defense fund.

  6. chimpsez says

    Is there a law in the U.S. to prosecute the A.F.A ant the D.I. for being in cahoots and organising this litiginous charade?

  7. sailor says

    Since it is a free-speech issue, whey didn’t the CSF allow the movie but counter the false publicity with a press release saying that not only did they not support these frauds, but their output was scientifically bogus, and the way things were set up they really did not have a choice about renting to the public?

  8. Aliasalpha says

    If the KKK asked to lease the IMAX theater, would they do so?

    You’d think they’d at least be asked to take their hats off because they’re blocking the screen

  9. Annick says

    What if, when renting to such miscreants, the museum put up posters all over the venue that said something like “The California Science Center Foundation does not in any way endorse the views or speculations expressed in this presentation.”
    Could put them all over the place. Posters are cheaper than lawyers.

  10. unbound says

    I would think that the foundation could draw up a standard agreement that explicitly states that their name can not be associated with any endorsement just because a film is being shown at their IMAX. They probably didn’t have such a statement in their agreements because no one has sunk to such low levels in the past.

  11. Ibis3, féministe avec un titre française de fantaisie says

    Can’t they just make a policy that they will not rent their IMAX to parties who wish to show films counter to their own mandate as this damages their reputation?

  12. Mogles says

    IANAL but doesn’t what Luskin says about the First Amendment (i.e. that it “forbids government preference for one viewpoint over another”) sound like complete shite…?

    For instance, I may have the viewpoint that I don’t want to pay taxes, whereas the government is clearly not in favour of this “viewpoint” and actively works against it. Is Luskin slyly refering to the establishment clause here (sneakily and stupidly calling evolution a religion in the process) or does he need to go back to law school and start from scratch again?

    If he’s the best that the ID movement has to offer then the only people that should be worried is the Discovery (still to discover anything) Institute, as there must surely be penalties for essentially only existing as a front for a law firm that operates purely as a means to instigate frivolous and wasteful lawsuits. Don’t they have anything better to do?

  13. Randomfactor says

    Better to stand outside the theater handing out leaflets saying “these people have already lied to you before the lights go out in the theater. How many MORE lies will they tell you to KEEP you in the dark?”

  14. says

    If the KKK asked to lease the IMAX theater, would they do so?

    KKK is classified as a hate group so if fits into an entirely different legal area.

    Obviously, the fix for this is to get these creationist groups categorized as hate groups. Then the museum would be legally backed up in saying they don’t want to associate with homophobic, patriarchal, lying bastards.

  15. jotajota22 says

    ID = Intellectually Dishonest

    Definitely sleazy move by the DI to tie themselves to real science by screaning their “documnetary” at science museums.

    I kinda feel bad for them, bringing their wiffle ball bats to play in the major leagues….. I say let them stand at the plate, then throw a 96mph heater right down the pipe, and let them see how well crafted stitched leather will crumple their little plastic bats.

  16. Talynknight says

    Sure the lies and deception are pretty much a given with the DI. But misspelling Genie when there are about half a dozen accepted spellings for such a creature is just unforgivable.

  17. Jason says

    The response of the Sam Noble Museum was also a good way to deal with these DI frauds. Immediately precede the movie with a museum sponsored lecture that explains the real science behind their lies. It completely made their little movie seem absurd (which it was).

  18. rw23 says

    @Rev. BigDumbChimp #3:

    Careful with that Axe PZ. I sense a spun Dover tu quoque incoming.

    That was my initial thought as well, but the two instances are quite different. The Dover trial uncovered evidence that Intelligent Design is just repackaged Creationism, and incompetently repackaged at that. Everything on top of that case and in this AFA/CSF case is just legal opinion regarding the various suits, but that particular piece of evidence can now be used more broadly to highlight the duplicity of the Discovery Institute.

  19. Timberwoof says

    What if the Foundation, or any other venue that hosted such a movie, were to then host a discussion panel where the ideas presented could be reviewed?

    Ugh. Never mind. You’d get people screaming at the tops of their lungs to shut down any dissent from God’s Truth.

  20. says

    Oh well, it’s not like anyone’s listening to them by now.


    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.”

    Probably true, but come on, you can only whine about “persecution” so many times. The people who automatically believe their lies, will, and almost no one else listens except to mock.

    They’re beyond embarrassment, telling the most blatant lies. Really, you don’t do that if you’re hoping to win, not just convince a few of the old marks to send a little more money due to this “great victory.”

    Glen Davidson

  21. Randomfactor says

    you can only whine about “persecution” so many times.

    On our side, sure. Christianity and creationists get a lifetime pass.

  22. Chris Seguin says

    There is a lesson here – the lesson is that seemingly all organizations that are faith based (christian, muslim, you name it) are filled with lying, disingenuous, dishonest, unabashed little cretins who will do whatever is required to make a name for their pet deity. These organizations should be shunned to the point of oblivion – the only thing these religious organizations do is create a forum for people to be disgusting little pigheaded cunts

  23. tfkreference says

    In addition to Jason’s suggestion at 20, send a stack of free tickets to every geology and biology department in the area.

  24. Ytrus says

    I think that sends a clear message to never get involved with these groups, ever, for any reason, regardless of whether or not you think you’re endorsing them.

  25. qwertyuiop says

    Time for science institutions to start trying to get science taught and documentaries shown in churches. Then when they say no, play the creationists’ game and sue THEM for free speech violations.

    Will be very interesting to watch, I’m sure.

  26. niftyatheist says

    quirtyuiop #29 Wowza! Why hasn’t anyone done this yet? Excellent idea!
    (waiting excitedly for a Pharyngulite to post a link showing it has/is/will be done and make my day!)

  27. niftyatheist says

    Hold on, but can churches claim “private enterprise” privilege?

    Although, by that metric, churches should then not be able to receive government funding for anything – or if they do, then they ought to be bound by the rules of any government funded place.

    Why is it that I suspect that, as in so many other cases, religion once again would be afforded special treatment and enjoy special privileges?

    I will vote for – hell, campaign for, knock on doors for, volunteer 24/7 for all of 2012 for – a candidate who promises explicitly to end special privilege for churches, including the privilege of tax evasion.

  28. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    That was my initial thought as well, but the two instances are quite different.

    Of course they are. But have ID proponents or the Disco Tute ever let facts or reality get in the way of their goals?

    Hence my comment

    I sense a spun Dover tu quoque incoming.

  29. Qwerty says

    Ah, another manufactured controversy brought to us by Liars for Jesus.

    I agree with Eugenie, just ignore their rants, rent the space, and hope no one shows up.

  30. Qwerty says

    “Is this potentially another Expelled wherein the bath water becomes the baby?”

    Or maybe the bath water turns into holy water and becomes the baby Jesus.

  31. Forbidden Snowflake says

    (“freedom” is like “family” in these organizations; when you see it, you should be instantly suspicious)

    Careful with that broad brush. FFRF /*cough

    Also, I love how the adorable trackbacks can NEVER get ‘Myers’ right.

  32. Forbidden Snowflake says

    Er… pradeep? The movie screening was canceled two years ago, but the litigation only ended now (check out the dates of the abcnews link and the Luskin commentary). Legal shit takes a while, but this story is fresh.

  33. Menyambal says

    As has been said before, a modern development in our lovely legal system is the filing of harassing lawsuits. Even if the decision goes against you, you can get the other side so bound up in paperwork as to cost them millions, and that does not include court costs.

  34. mikmik says

    Wait a minute. These freaks violated court orders. What about slamming them and get them ordered to print retractions for falsely claiming victory?
    It’s AFA v. court system, now. Don’t let them get away with it!

  35. some Matt or other says

    And how would this case fare against the standards of “tort reform” that conservatives are always on about?

  36. Liam says

    Annik #12.

    Wouldn’t help. The point is not to get people to see the movie. The point is that they can say they had a movie in a sciency venue.

  37. petejohn says

    It’s worth repeating that many of DI’s leading, ahem, intellectuals would not appear in court and defend Intelligent Design under oath during the Dover trial. So yes, the DI fools are liars and frauds, and what’s worse, they’re spineless too. The contempt I hold for Casey Luskin and that band of snakes knows no bounds.

    I mean, good evolution, this “victory” had nothing to do with the validity of I.D. It was a blown-out-of-proportion legal case in which a compromise was struck. If that’s a glorious victory for the DI then those people are actual life-trolls.