Discovery Institute: “Darwin’s Dilemma” Lawsuit

EVERYONE else seems to have written about this litigation, so it’s time for your Curmudgeon to say a thing or two. There’s an excellent article describing the case at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) website: Lawsuit against science center over creationist film. The facts aren’t very complicated.

A lawsuit filed by the American Freedom Alliance (AFA) charges that the California Science Center violated both the First Amendment and a contract to rent its theater when it canceled a screening of Darwin’s Dilemma.

What’s the film all about? All you need to know is that it’s being promoted by the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids). For example, see: Behind the Scenes With Darwin’s Dilemma: An Interview With Producer Lad Allen. And see also: Los Angeles Premiere of Darwin’s Dilemma at California Science Center on Oct. 25, written by John West, who says:

Darwin’s Dilemma explores one of the great mysteries in the history of life: the geologically-sudden appearance of dozens of major complex animal types in the fossil record without any trace of the gradual transitional steps Charles Darwin had predicted. Frequently described as “the Cambrian Explosion,” the development of these new animal types required a massive increase in genetic information. “The big question that the Cambrian Explosion poses is where does all that new information come from?” says Dr. Stephen Meyer, a featured expert in the documentary and author of the book Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design.

Now you know what the film is. But what about the outfit filing the lawsuit? Who is the AFA? Their Mission Statement lists a range of interests, among which is something they call “academic freedom.” Because that lofty-sounding phrase has been recently co-opted by creationists as their own code-term for forcing schools to teach the pseudo-science of creationism, we looked further. The AFA has what they call “Mini Web Sites,” one of which is The Darwin Debates. Yes, they’re heavily involved in wedging creationism into science education. So that’s who they are, and that’s why they wanted to show Darwin’s Dilemma.

Okay, now who’s the theater owner that’s getting sued? The California Science Center has an About Us page that says:

The California Science Center is a public-private partnership between the State of California and the not-for-profit California Science Center Foundation.

They also proudly mention their Smithsonian Affiliate Designation. They are allowed to exhibit artifacts owned by the Smithsonian Institution, which is something the Smithsonian does with selected museums and cultural organizations throughout the country.

Okay, those are the players. Somehow, the California Science Center had one of its facilities rented by the AFA to show Darwin’s Dilemma on 25 October 2009. This must have been awkward for a science-oriented institution, but the facility was available for public rentals, and although creationists often make their presentations to church groups, they look for opportunities to have their material associated with respectable organizations. They don’t like science, but they like to take advantage of its reputation.

So what happened? According to the NCSE, the Discoveroids issued a press release in advance of the showing, describing the California Science Center as “the Smithsonian Institution’s west coast affiliate.” This might be interpreted to give the impression that the film was, in effect, being exhibited by the Smithsonian itself. The Smithsonian, which had a prior dust-up with the Discoveroids, complained to the California Science Center, which then examined their contract with the AFA and realized that the Discoveroid press release violated a clause requiring their prior approval of all promotional materials. So they canceled their contract with the AFA, which then had to exhibit the film elsewhere.

That’s the background for the AFA’s suit against the California Science Center, which alleges that the contract violation was a “false pretext” for cancellation of the screening contract. The NCSE has all the court pleadings available online. See: American Freedom Alliance v. California Science Center et al.

Besides alleging breach of contract, the AFA’s amended complaint also alleges that the California Science Center’s breach:

[Paragraph 47] … thereby discriminating against Plaintiff for the content of expressions concerning intelligent design to have been presented at its EVENT and viewpoints regarding intelligent design to have been expressed at the EVENT.


[Paragraph 50] Intelligent design theory has become controversial because it is assumed by its opponents to be a repackaging of creationism theory and therefore based on religion rather than science. Opposition to it is generally manifested with irrational hostility, a product of ideological bias within the media, academia and the science community, which have demonized it to the point that its detractors will go to great lengths to suppress it from any public debate or discussion, even at the risk of violating the First Amendment.

You get the idea. Oh, besides all that, the amended complaint alleges that there really wasn’t a breach of contract because:

[Paragraph 32:] The expressed reason for cancelling the event was … contrived by Defendants as a pretext for cancelling the event when the real reason for cancelling it derived from hostility to the viewpoints expressed in “Darwin’s Dilemma” and advocated by Mssrs. Wells, Berlinki and Ladd. By asserting a breach of contract argument, Defendants sought to shroud themselves within a cloak of plausible deniability for violating Plaintiff’s constitutional rights.

The Discoveroids have been blogging quite a bit about this litigation. The most recent example is California Science Center Engaged in Illegal Cover-Up to Hide the Truth About Its Censorship of Pro-Intelligent Design Film, by John West, in which he claims, with bold added by us:

[T]he [Discovery] Institute obtained a smoking-gun e-mail confirming that the censorship of Darwin’s Dilemma was connected to the Science Center’s relationship with the Smithsonian Institution

Ooooooh — a smoking gun! Let’s read on:

[California] Science Center Vice President Christine Sion specifically cited alleged damage to the Center’s “relationship with the Smithsonian” as the reason for canceling the Darwin’s Dilemma screening.

Whoa, baby! That’s important. Or is it? What if it were true that the California Science Center had been hoping for a reason to get out of showing the creationist film? It’s not their fault that the Discoveroids gave them that reason by issuing an unauthorized press release. There’s no law that says you can’t be happy when the conduct of others lets you declare that a contract has been breached.

Anyway, the case is just getting started. It’s really not a big deal in our opinion, but it’s part of The Controversy, so we’ll be reporting on significant developments.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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One response to “Discovery Institute: “Darwin’s Dilemma” Lawsuit

  1. Well, best of luck to them, but it doesn’t sound like they have a legal leg to stand on. Like you mentioned, being happy about breaching a contract doesn’t matter squat as long as its within the law. They will probably call it proof of censorship when they lose and milk it for all its worth with their sympathizers.