James “Jesus Glasses” Corbett: Update 28 Oct ‘09

THIS case keeps finding its way into the news. Our last report was here: Corbett Update 24 Oct ‘09, about the fascinating award of legal fees against the kid who sued Corbett, because although he had been partially successful in suing Corbett, the kid had also sued the school board which was found not liable. Thus — wonder of wonders! — the court ruled that because same lawyers represented both Corbett and the school board, the kid had to pay legal fees to Corbett’s lawyers for their victory on behalf of the school board.

Since then the case has come to the attention of the Wall Street Journal‘s legal affairs blogger: Case Involving Harsh Words About Religion Heads to 9th Circuit. What’s interesting there is that we learn a bit about Corbett’s appeal. As you know, he’s appealing the court’s ruling that he violated the student’s First Amendment rights by saying in a class lecture that creationism is “religious, superstitious nonsense.” He said loads of other things, but the court brushed them aside.

The creationist kid is also appealing. He objects to the court’s ruling because it says the rest of Corbett’s lecture was constitutionally permissible. The appellate court is being asked to review everything, which it probably doesn’t want to do — although it might. They normally won’t re-examine fact questions, especially those that were decided by a jury, but in this case there wasn’t a jury at the trial court level. Therefore the whole case could be re-examined by the appeals court. Besides, as far as we can tell there really aren’t many factual issues — the lecture statements were made. The issues are all legal: Did those statements violate the First Amendment?

Everything is quite unsettled at this point, which makes things agonizingly difficult for Corbett. That’s just what the creationist kid wants, we imagine. Hey, if you can’t burn a witch, at least you can sue him to death.

Anyway, the WSJ blog says:

Joining Corbett for the appeal: Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the UC Irvine law school. According to this story in the OC Register, Chemerinsky was named in the filings as a member of Corbett’s new, four-person defense team. All of the attorneys will work on a pro bono basis.

We’re delighted to learn this. The WSJ blog article also says:

Meanwhile, attorneys for student Chad Farnan simultaneously appealed the case today to the Ninth Circuit. They believe [trial court judge] Selna should have found Corbett liable for more than just the Creationism comment.

“We will ask the court to reconsider all 22 statements,” said Farnan’s attorney, Robert Tyler. “We hope that the Court of Appeals will recognize that comments like, ‘Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool,’ are truly a violation of the establishment clause, when used in the context used by Dr. Corbett.”

Corbett sounds like a great, thought-provoking teacher. Anyway, today’s hottest news isn’t what’s in the WSJ blog. It’s this:

The Corbett case has hit the big time! WorldNetDaily — one of the most ridiculous “news” organs in the universe — is on the job. In their buffoonish pages we read: Student appeals teacher’s ‘Jesus glasses’ mockery. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

Advocates for Faith and Freedom is appealing on behalf of the student, Chad Farnan, whose problems erupted while he was attending advanced placement classes at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, Calif.

The kid’s problems “erupted”? What’s that all about — his adolescent complexion?

Teacher James Corbett, who already had a reputation for mocking Christians when Farnan began taking an Advanced Placement European history class from him two years ago, was determined by a judge to have violated the Constitution when he stated “an unequivocal belief that creationism is ‘superstitious nonsense.’ “

This must truly shock the righteous folks at WorldNetDaily. Let’s read on:

But a number of other statements were left standing, and officials with Advocates said they, too, need to be addressed.

“Officials”? Lawyers in a pro-bono shop harassing teachers on behalf of creationist kids are now referred to as “officials”? Does anyone sense a wee bit of grandiosity here? We continue, as we’re told of things from the viewpoint of the kid’s lawyer-officials:

For example, the teacher’s statement, “When you put on your Jesus glasses you can’t see the truth,” was found not to be a violation.

Right. The court said that’s not a First Amendment problem. But it’s certainly great blogging material. Here’s more:

“It is constitutionally impermissible for Dr. Corbett to use his classroom as a bully pulpit to display his personal disapproval of Christianity,” said Robert Tyler, general counsel for Advocates.

Now the creationist kid’s lawyers have a “general counsel.” In the prevailing spirit of all this titular escalation, you may now address your Curmudgeon as the “Ultimate, Maximum, Most Perfect, All-encompassing Supremacy™.” We could go farther, but it wouldn’t be consistent with our basic humility.

Back to the WND article’s account, told from “general counsel” Tyler’s side of things:

“As the court correctly determined, Dr. Corbett violated the Establishment Clause. This is an important precedent-setting case that will likely set the standard for teaching in public schools.

If, as the kid’s “general counsel” says, such judicial supervision of teachers’ lectures becomes “the standard for teaching in public schools,” then teachers won’t be free from the threat of litigation unless the only thing they do is read their lectures from previously approved scripts. You think schools are bad now? Just wait until after the creationists have cleansed them of all diabolical influences.

There’s more in the WorldNetDaily article. Check it out if you like. As we see it, the big news is that the creationist kid, together with his lawyers (and their gloriously-titled “officials”) have found a true champion to proclaim the righteousness of their cause.

With WorldNetDaily on the kid’s side, it’s so much easier to keep things in perspective.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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15 responses to “James “Jesus Glasses” Corbett: Update 28 Oct ‘09

  1. Chemerinski is to constitutional law what Richard Dawkins is to evolution. The kid is in good hands.

  2. LawDawg says: “The kid is in good hands.”

    It looks to me like Corbett is in good hands.

  3. Gabriel Hanna

    Granted Corbett shouldn’t have said needlessly insulting things about religion during class time-it is an abuse of his authority as a teacher-the kid didn’t lose any Constitutional rights.

    Most of my teachers said things I disagreed with, and would drag their personal opinions into class from time to time; it teaches you to think critically. And if the teacher’s a big jerk who marks you down for disagreeing, it teaches you to pick your battles.

  4. Yeah, I meant Corbett. Coffee hasn’t kicked in yet.

  5. It would seem to me the critical question is not whether the teacher uttered a statement that was critical of religion, but rather did he try to TEACH that viewpoint.

    The former should be permissible if in service of stimulating classroom discussion, the later should NEVER be, whether for or against a religion, in a public school.

    If uttering statements that are critical of religion in general is going to be deemed per se a 1st amendment violation, then teachers better strap a gag ball over their mouths, because even factually accurate criticisms would be off limits, e.g., “those people in Salem were a bunch of religious fanatics who got carried away and executed a bunch of people who had not harmed anyone.”

    If your religion subscribes to the belief that everyone has an Invisible Pink Unicorn sitting on their shoulder, should that be used to stop teachers from opining that there is no evidence of Pink Unicorns, invisible or otherwise, and it’s pretty silly to believe in such things?

    If a student is a believer in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, can he use the 1st Amendment to stop a teacher from saying “this pasta sucks” in the cafeteria?

    [May you be touched by His Noodly Appendage]

  6. Longie says: “It would seem to me the critical question is not whether the teacher uttered a statement that was critical of religion, but rather did he try to TEACH that viewpoint.”

    Agreed, but things may be different at the high school level. A friend teaches philosophy in college. He assigns readings on all sides of various issues, and discusses them all in class. He then gives his own views, but he scrupulously tells the students that they don’t have to agree with him, as long as they can present coherent arguments to show that they understand the issues. That is, mere “witnessing” for one side isn’t acceptable. That seems to be the right way to do things.

  7. I’m not sure why creationist would be celebrating it. It would seem that a logical consequence of all this is that religion is going to be mentioned even less in schools in fear of these sorts of charges, which would be contrary to their goals. But I may be using logic again.

  8. Albanaeon says: “I’m not sure why creationist would be celebrating it.”

    Except for that stupid law in Louisiana, this is all they’ve got. And if they can’t push their stuff in the schools, they don’t want anything else to be taught either.

  9. “Ultimate, Maximum, Most Perfect, All-encompassing Supremacy”?

    Nah. If you’re going to trademark something, I’d prefer, “Ultimate, Maximum, Most Perfect, All-encompassing Panjandrumcy”. Rolls off the tongue better.

  10. Gary says:

    … Panjandrumcy”. Rolls off the tongue better.

    Maybe we’ll have a poll.

  11. Maximum Leaders don’t poll — they rule by edict.

    😉

    Personally, I think “Fromage a grande” suits you well….

  12. Longie says: “Maximum Leaders don’t poll — they rule by edict.”

    Oh. Good idea. I’ll work on it.

  13. Let’s get something straight, most comments are based on statements taken out of context by the “advocates.” For example, my “jesus glasses” quote, which they’ve used over and over again in fund raising efforts, was a reference to Joseph II, who tried to disburse the Monastery lands to the landless peasants. The church, propagandized the peasants into opposing Joseph, who was working in their best interests. In effect, the church put Jesus Glasses on the peasants and they couldn’t see their own best interests.

    Also, several commented that my statements would be acceptable in a college atmosphere. In fact, I teach college classes to high school kids. My pass rate on the AP exam speaks for itself, far above the national and state averages over the years. Please wait for my side to begin our public defense. I’ve been prevented from correcting the record until the past two weeks. Remember, Judge Selna is a conservative republican W Bush appointee, and he found no real faut. In fact, he ordered Chad’s lawyers to pay expenses. He wouldn’t have done that had they won.

  14. Gabriel Hanna

    @Jim Corbett:

    Being the victim of a lawsuit is a punishment far out of proportion to anything you may have said, appropriate or not.

  15. jim corbett says: “Please wait for my side to begin our public defense.”

    I’m already on your side. Relax, you’re among friends here.