The Meaning of ICR’s Courtroom Defeat

WHILE everyone else is whooping it up to celebrate the news we wrote about yesterday, that a Federal court in Texas Slams the Institute of Creation Research, your Curmudgeon will attempt to examine the deeper meaning of this event. This latest creationist defeat has, we believe, more importance than the laughable failure of a young-earth creationist outfit that wanted to issue state-sanctioned graduate degrees in science education.

Although they conspicuously stayed away from the ICR litigation, this case has great importance for the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids). Why do we say this? Because the Discoveroids are the creationists with a long-term litigation strategy.

Almost six months ago we wrote about a still-pending case: The Goal of the “Darwin’s Dilemma” Lawsuit, where we said:

Here’s how we see it. First, the Discoveroids know that they have no science. Second, since the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, they realize they can no longer maintain the pretense that Intelligent Design is anything other then raw creationism. Yet they persevere. Why?

Recall that the Discoveroids’ founding mastermind is Philip E. Johnson: Godfather of Intelligent Design. Recall further that their goal, as revealed in Johnson’s Wedge Document, is social revolution. See: Intelligent Design: It’s Not About Science.

So what’s going on here? We suspect that the Discoveroids’ game has morphed again. Now the plan is to use the Bill of Rights — as leftists have done for the last couple of generations with spectacular success — to wedge their way into the media, academia, and ultimately into the law of the land. To do that they need court precedents establishing the “right” to promote their nonsense in all public facilities.

That was months before they started the David Coppedge case, which is their latest effort in the same grand plan. Okay, but what does the ICR debacle mean for the Discoveroids and their dream of restoring the Dark Ages? The Discoveroids weren’t involved in ICR’s litigation. They wisely kept their distance, in accordance with their pretense that there’s some difference between them and traditional creationists (aside from doctrinal trivia like recent six-day creation). So why does the ICR decision have any effect on the Discoveroids? Here’s why:

In the ICR case, the creationists used all the magic phrases, like “discrimination, free speech, free exercise, equal protection, and due process,” and the judge gave fair consideration to what they were trying to say. Unfortunately, they didn’t use those phrases properly because they aren’t magic — like abracadabra. Those phrases have actual legal meaning, and they don’t have any effect unless they’re applicable to the facts. The creationists don’t understand this.

The judge in the ICR case tore into the creationists’ claims that the state unfairly discriminated against their creation “science.” He reviewed the nature of science, and the woeful curriculum of ICR, and then — like other judges before him — he correctly concluded that because creationism isn’t science, ICR wasn’t entitled to grant degrees in science education. They were, of course, free to maintain their beliefs, and also to teach them and grant degrees in creationism, but not under the state sanction of a degree in science education.

Although the decision of a trial court judge isn’t legally binding on anyone but the parties, the facts developed in the case are there for all the world to see, and the reasoning of the court is available to judges facing similar issues.

There have been earlier creationist cases involving largely the same arguments. In our post ACSI v. Stearns: Creationists Lose Again, we wrote about a case in which the Association of Christian Schools International and a few other plaintiffs sued the University of California system over UC’s refusal to recognize various high school level creationist courses when UC is evaluating the qualifications of applicants for admission. The creationists argued that the University of California’s policy on creationist biology courses “constitutes viewpoint discrimination, content discrimination, and content-based regulation, which conflict with the First Amendment.” Does that sound familiar? It should, because because ICR raised many of the same constitutional buzz-words in an academic context, to no avail.

Then there’s the Discoveroids’ much touted case, the “Darwin’s Dilemma” Lawsuit, involving some of the same constitutional issues. It’s being alleged that a science museum’s cancellation of a contract to display a creationist film amounts to discrimination and a violation of the First Amendment. Again, they’re using the familiar litany of magic phrases.

None of these cases are identical, of course, and the constitutional issues are complicated; but each new decision should be instructive for the next one. That’s because, when you get right down to it, every one of these cases involves the same thing — creationists claiming a constitutional right to force their way into places where, by definition, they don’t belong.

The pattern is becoming obvious. Judges can pay attention to well-reasoned trial court decisions from other jurisdictions, even if they aren’t technically binding the way appellate decisions would be. Therefore, the more First Amendment “viewpoint discrimination” cases that get decided against creationists, the better, because things get easier as the cases pile up.

Which brings us to the David Coppedge case, with its allegations that a creationist computer technician who was promoting creationism on the job was demoted by his employer due to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. The Discoveroids have been vigorously touting the alleged merits of this case.

We’re not saying that the Discoveroids are going to lose their latest cases because of the ICR defeat. It’s not that easy. But as we’ve said, with each creationist defeat, things look better for the rational side.

Update: Dragon Wins ICR’s Texas Accreditation Case.

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

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8 responses to “The Meaning of ICR’s Courtroom Defeat

  1. Regarding the outcome of court cases, never say never is a good philosophy.

    What the theocrats want, and I’ll lump in the Bubbas here in Texas and social conservatives in general, is a theocratic court that rules according to the Good Book rather than the US Constitution.

    At Kitzmiller, creationist morons were crowing over the selection of Judge Jones “appointed by GHW Bush his own self” and a life-long Republican and church going all-round good guy. How could such a judge rule against Noah and the Ark?

    Of course, when Kitzmiller went to the plaintiffs our fine upstanding Christians issued Judge Jones and family death threats prompting official protection.

    “Viewpoint discrimination” is a made-up term that reads well in op-ed pieces but is otherwise hot air. Really, you have to accept every opinion as valid or be guilty of VD? (I said guilty, not infected.)

    In Coppedge, he want’s to be left alone to talk his talk and pass out his CD’s with NO INTERFERENCE FOREVER. Yeah, that’s a can of worms I’m sure JPL wants to open.

    In CSC, they want to be able to show creationist videos in ANY public venue: library, museum, institution; anything that allows the public to rent its space. Furthermore, in the DI Bizzaro world the public venues would be unable to refuse.

    But yes, oh wise Curmudgeon, the DI is certainly seeking out this conflict. As Crowther’s email clearly stated, the DI wanted to double-check that all the contracts were in place because “all hell was going to break loose” after the showing was publicized. What will be interesting to see in this case is whether the AFA’s clear instructions to the DI to publicize the event was grounds for the CSC to break the contract.

  2. carlsonjok

    Really, you have to accept every opinion as valid or be guilty of VD?

    Viewpoint discrimination is more than hot air. It has real meaning in a constitutional context. If you are a governmental entity and you offer your facilities for use by the public, you don’t have to accept every opinion as valid, however you cannot discriminate against one viewpoint because you believe it is invalid. If a governmental entity makes its facilities available for use by public groups, it must do so for all public groups.

    It is for that reason that I think that the DI suit against the CSC may not be the loser everyone is assuming it is. Depending on what they find in the documents the CSC now has to produce, they may have a case.

    Look. We know what the DI is up to. This is a classic heads I win, tails you lose situation. They are trying to gain apparent legitimacy by co-opting the real legitimacy of scientific organizations by renting their facilities for their dog and pony shows. Either they bask in the reflected glow of real scientists or they get to claim discrimination. It is what they did here with OU and the Sam Noble Museum. However, it was handled here appropriately. So long as they complied with the facility rental requirements, like the local geology or model rocket clubs, they get to use the facility. But, the local OU science community made themselves available to provide the real scientific story in counterpoint.

    I certainly hope that the CSC wins the suit, but until we see more information, I wouldn’t wager on it.

    So, who knows, maybe we’ll get Expelled II: Electric Boogaloo.

  3. Geeze, carlsonjok, no need to be such a Debbie Downer with pesky facts! I was having a great time on the Mad Hatter’s ride.

    However, you are totally correct about the public access thing. Some school districts no longer allow Boy and Girl Scout units to meet on campus or they would have to let in the KKK, Neo Nazis, and “any” organization, or so they claim; thus as a precaution they close the schools to public access.

    The DI claims that their PR was totally independent of the AFA, however there is that email from the AFA to the DI telling them to go ahead and publicize. The DI claims that since their PR was independent of the AFA-CSC contract it doesn’t count.

    Interesting argument. Sort of like two thugs sitting in a bar having a beer. Thug 1 says, “I hope Mrs. Smith services her car regularly. Dem brakes is tricky things.” Thug 2 nods head, “Yep, accidents happen.”

  4. longshadow

    Terrifically insightful essay, Curmudgeon. We will be expecting more of this caliber…..

  5. Longie says: “We will be expecting more of this caliber…..”

    Yeah, any minute now.

  6. Curmudgeon: “They wisely kept their distance, in accordance with their pretense that there’s some difference between them and traditional creationists (aside from doctrinal trivia like recent six-day creation). ”

    That strategy works, of course, because very few people actually pay attention. It backfired miserably at Dover, however, when a conservative Christian judge had no choice but to pay attention. As I keep saying, if the DI truly wants to pretend that ID is not creationism, all they need to do is break their silence on this case and the Freshwater one. They can even defend the right to peddle old-style creationism, as long as they make it clear that it does not fit the evidence “like ID does.”

  7. Carlsonjok: If a governmental entity makes its facilities available for use by public groups, it must do so for all public groups.

    IANAL but AFAIK and the judge in the ICR case mentioned a relevant exception to your rule in his ruling: the state can discriminate on content when the entire purpose of the state’s action has to do with specific content.

    So, if you are a civil war museum with a for-rent theater, you can limit your rentals to civil-war-related stuff without constitutional problems. And if you’re a science museum, you can limit your rentals to science stuff. Because showing that specific content is the entire purpose the state has funded you. It makes no sense to say (the museum acting as an arm of) the state can’t control content in those cases.

    However, if you open your theater to stuff not related to your mission, you’re opening yourself to just this type of suit. You can no longer claim mission-relatedness as a defense. This may be the case in CA, frankly I don’t know what else they showed at their museum. But if they only allowed sciency movies to be played, they’re probably okay. They can make the same claim the state of Texas did here – that the course/film does not meet the requirements to be science.

  8. eric says:

    And if you’re a science museum, you can limit your rentals to science stuff. Because showing that specific content is the entire purpose the state has funded you.

    That seems to be the situation, but we’ll have to wait for the case to develop. See The Science Center’s Mission.