James Corbett Case: Update 05 Sep ‘10

OUR last post on this litigation was James “Jesus Glasses” Corbett: Update 25 Jun ‘10. We also posted recently about something Casey Luskin had to say about it: Casey, Corbett, Creationism, & the Constitution. The next few indented paragraphs provide background information, which most of you can skip:

This is about Dr. James Corbett, an Advanced Placement European history teacher at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, California, whose classroom remarks that creationism is “superstitious nonsense” were ruled to have violated the Constitution’s establishment clause. He was sued by Chad Farnan, one of his students — presumably a creationist.

Chad had also sued the school board — which was found not liable by the trial court. Both Corbett and Chad are appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Corbett wants to be found not liable, and Chad wants the court to impose even more liability. During the appeal, Chad dropped his claim against the school board in exchange for their agreement to drop their claim against him for legal fees. Only Chad’s claims against Corbett remain. Corbett’s attorney is Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine’s law school.

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has many of the court pleadings available online. See: C. F. v. Capistrano USD.

In the Orange County Register, the source of most of our Corbett news, we read Intellectuals must ‘push back,’ urges teacher sued by student. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

Speaking at a convention in Irvine hosted by the Orange County chapter of the high IQ society Mensa, Corbett railed against what he described as anti-intellectual conservatives who rely on “submission” and “cherished cultural myths” to maintain power and influence.

“Intellectuals of all political persuasions have an obligation to push back,” Corbett told a roomful of 20 people at the Atrium Hotel in Irvine during a two-hour morning seminar. “RWAs (right-wing authoritarians) would drag the world into a world of war, fear and intolerance.”

Going on the offensive, isn’t he? We suspect a “roomful of 20” Mensa members may not be the most effective audience, but that’s okay. It’s good to speak out, and with press coverage his words will reach the wider world. Let’s read on:

Corbett said [Chad] Farnan’s attorneys – from the Murrietta-based Christian law firm Advocates for Faith & Freedom – seized on Corbett’s unconventional teaching style to build a case that religious students were under attack in public schools. The attorneys drummed up national publicity, then used that publicity to solicit donations, Corbett said.

As we’ve said before, the key to this case isn’t whether Chad can go through life with a silly smirk on his face; what matters here is whether there’s any money to be made in creationist litigation. If this case provides a good fee for Chad’s legal team, there will be an incentive for more of the same. Creationist lawyers will be openly behaving like their ambulance-chasing colleagues. We may soon be seeing television commercials like this:

Are your children being brainwashed by atheist teachers? Call the law firm of Rapture, Rupture, Scripture, and Vulture to learn about your rights. Dial 1-800-STUPID. Operators are standing by to take your call.

Children and their parents will be used as tools for rapacious “family values” lawyers. Creationist kids will be listening intently in class — not to learn any history or science, but to detect any “ungodly” expressions their teachers may make. Good teachers — who are already on the endangered species list — will become extinct. We continue:

Farnan, now a freshman at Pepperdine University in Malibu, is appealing his case, seeking a broader ruling against Corbett. Corbett also is appealing to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking to be exonerated.

Chad’s at Pepperdine? That’s a church-affiliated school, so maybe he’s a campus hero. But it has an excellent academic reputation, so maybe it’s not quite the experience Chad had been anticipating. That doesn’t matter. As we said, the only issue here is legal fees. Here’s more:

Court briefs were filed by both sides this summer, and the appeals court decision might come as early as December – or perhaps never, Corbett said Saturday. Corbett explained that the 9th Circuit may decline to rule because he got to keep his teaching job and no attorney fees were awarded to either side. “The 9th Circuit may very well look at this and say, ‘It’s a moot case,'” Corbett said.

The appeal may just dribble away? That doesn’t sound right. We’re guessing here, but Corbett might have misunderstood something his lawyer told him. The lower court’s decision might simply be affirmed with a one-line order. That happens all the time, because lots of appeals are frivolous. In such cases, except for a single sentence affirming the trial court, there is no written opinion. Such a result in Corbett’s case would leave things as they are now, which is what he says is possible. It’s likely, however, that even if they do affirm the lower court’s opinion, at least some members of the 9th Circuit will want to write an opinion in this matter. We’ll just have to wait it out.

There’s much more in the article. If you’ve been following this potentially important case, click over there and read it all.

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

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13 responses to “James Corbett Case: Update 05 Sep ‘10

  1. Curmudgeon: “Chad’s at Pepperdine? That’s a church-affiliated school, so maybe he’s a campus hero. But it has an excellent academic reputation, so maybe it’s not quite the experience Chad had been anticipating.”

    Anyone know what his major is? If he takes a biology course he might be in for a rude awakening.

  2. Carrying Mensa card ranks up there with having a “my kid is
    an honor student” bumper sticker. 🙂

  3. Charley Horse whinnys: “Carrying Mensa card ranks up there with having a “my kid is an honor student” bumper sticker. :)”

    The card itself is great for levelling furniture.

  4. What was not clear in the Register article was that I based my comments on research done by Robert Altemeyer at the University of Manitoba. His work also provided the basis for John Dean’s book on the new right and authoritarianism. And, fear not, I plan on fighting this in whatever ring I can find. Erwin Chermerinsky, Dean of UCI Law wrote my brief for the 9th Circuit. We both expect the Adovocates for Faith and Freedom to appeal to the SC, so I could end by being a modern day Scopes (he lost).

    Jim Corbett

  5. I must note that I share your view of the importance of the case of the case as important. Important enough for me to fight in any venue at every opportunity. I did not understand when my lawyer advised me that taking the case to and Orange County jury would be unwise, that by taking the case to a judge, I would be allowed to contest any of the facts as the Advocates for Faith and Freedom presented them in their brief. Juries decide facts, judges law. That decision has not served me well, because one must work to find my side of the story, while the Advocates have an uncontested court record working for them.

  6. sorry for the bad editing, my laptop keyboard betrays me regularly

  7. jim corbett says:

    What was not clear in the Register article was that I based my comments on research done by Robert Altemeyer at the University of Manitoba.

    I recognized that by your use of the term RWA. We recently talked about that book here, in the comment section of this thread.

    In my humble opinion, thinking more about the big picture rather than your feelings in this matter, the “best” result at this point would be a simple affirmance of the trial court’s decision, with no written opinion. A “per curiam affirmed” result probably isn’t appealable (although Dean Chemerinsky would know that far better than I would). That leaves you relatively untouched, as you still have your job, and you didn’t have to pay legal fees. It leaves Chad’s lawyers with a really empty “victory,” and no money to show for it — which is the important thing. Further, it’s not a precedent that is of any value to any other court.

  8. Your analysis is faulty.

    I sent a letter home over summer explaining my method. That letter provided my home phone and home email so that parents who had questions could easily contact me. Neither Chad, who never spoke in class, nor his parents ever contacted me before they came to school with the Advocates for Faith and Freedom who dropped the legal complaint on the principal’s desk and offered to drop the suit if I was fired. Legally, I cannot comment on Chad’s academic prowess. He was described as an “honor” student in the press, but he was not among the publically identified honor students at graduation. Had he stayed in the class and worked, I’m confident he would have passed the AP Exam, over 85% of my students do (The national average is 60%).

    As for your notion that Chad’s lawyers had an “empty victory,” you are wrong. Their business model does not require winning lawsuits. In my case, they gained tens of thousands of dollars, probably hundreds of thousands (I don’t know the actual amount) through donations to their “ministry” from fundraising appeals on O’Reilly, Hannity, Fox News Sunday, at expensive fundraisers at the Nixon Library and on their website. Shortly after they filed my case, they hired a full time fundraiser. Their tactics are a great threat to education because school board’s have a fiduciary responsibility to voters and seek to avoid expensive litigation. This sort of legal blackmail has the effect of leading administrators to avoid teachers who teach critical thinking in favor of those who never have a complaint because they stick to teaching culturally approved myth. I might add, in 35 years of teaching, this was my first formal complaint. I received over 500 letters from my 1500 ex-AP students since the case was filed. All were in support. All.

    This is an important battle. I have a responsibility to all teachers to fight these unfair charges precisely because the “chilling effect” on other, particularly younger teachers could be devastating.

  9. jim corbett says: “Your analysis is faulty.”

    You’ve persuaded me. I didn’t realize how much the lawyers could benefit even without court-awarded fees. And you’re quite correct, I didn’t consider the chilling effect that even one trial court “victory” would have on the school board and on teachers.

    So I’m pleased to revise my earlier comment. The best result would be a resounding thrashing of the creationists by the 9th Circuit, in the tradition of the Kitzmiller opinion. That, followed by a refusal of the Supreme Court to take the case — which by itself sends a message — so the 9th Circuit’s opinion would serve as a beacon. Dean Chemerinsky can handle it. So can the 9th Circuit. This is their kind of case. (See there? Even a Curmudgeon can change his mind.)

  10. Thank you. BTW, I’m not a member of Mensa, but as I wrote, after taking bad advice that leaves the impression that any of Chad’s “charges” have merit, I’m willing to go anywhere and speak to any group, large or small. I might add, many people (all progressives) have changed their minds about my case after hearing my side. The others side, as Dr. Altemeyer noted, are not concerned with logic or the facts.

    Folks with questions might be well served to take a look at the Advocates website. It provides insight into their tactics. They have lost every case, but prosper nonetheless. There they ask for donations to prevent the Anti-Christian UC system from “discriminating” against Christians by refusing to accept “The Bible Based History of the United States” taught in “Christian” schools as equivalent to AP U.S. History. They defend the “rights” of a Christian pharmacist to refuse to sell birth control to a single woman. They filed a case claiming that teaching tolerance of homosexuality is an unconstitutional infringement of the religious rights of Bible-believing Christians and 0n behalf of Christian doctor for refusing to provide reproductive services to a Lesbian. They have also filed to defend the right of a public school Bible club to discriminate against students who are not “Bible-believing Christians.” They are defending the right of a “Christian” public school student to wear a homosexual bashing T-shirt.

    Ironically, they have also been to court to claim “Creation Science” is science and therefore should be part of every curriculum. Of course, when it served their purpose in my case, they claimed it was religion and therefore immune from criticism by a public actor. They claimed an anti-Christian bias in one of the “charges” against me because I commented that there is no correlation between attendance at religious services and social stability.What I said was that there is a correlation between social dysfunction and widespread belief in God and attendance at services. I also said that the data did not prove a causality, but that didn’t make it into their brief. and on and on…


  11. MrC…

    good to see you are flexible…wouldnt have expected any different as that is what marks you and I out as different the Xtian facists who rely on unquestionable dogma.

    I disagree with you that the Supreme Court should bang this into touch tho. What is needed to end the faith head and Wedgies stupidity is a Kitzmiller ruling from the SC, and that would then be an end to the insanity. Till the Wedgies come up with their next legal scam that is.

    Mr Corbett

    Good on you mate – you fight tooth and nail. You are in the right here and never ever compromise on that. Your nalysis of the ripple effects of the matter are spot on, and your battle cry should be taken up now, RIGHT NOW!!!

    I, as a Brit, just find the irony of your twatty student sitting in a class on European history then suing you for poo pooing creationist nonsense hilarious. I take it he slept through your classes, as he has a poor grasp of how we over here think. We have no time for creationists, and little either for scum who turn secular law courts into a faith riddled get rich quick scheme.

    If it does go titsy over there Im sure you will find a postition at a UK uni a lot more comfortable. Here we actually do have “free speech” as opposed to just saying we have it, and the least Chad could expect for his actions would be an intellectual and legal humiliation and bruising. His peers would laugh him out of class…creationists wear dunce hats at UK universities.

    Fight on Mr Corbett. Make us all proud. Free Speech MEANS free speech or none at all.

    My only regret is that Im not Bill Gates, otherwise your fees would be pre-paid all the way.

  12. Sorry for the double whammy…just read the last part of the article…..

    You do teach the kids that the Puritans were driven out of England because we f**king hated what they did during the Protectorate years of Cromwell dont you? The Restoration lashback is what drove these seeker scum out..basically we had had enough of their filthy faith. They are the bastards than banned Christmas….thats how WE remember them. There may be a statue of Cromwell outside Parliament, but he is the most despised ruler in British history…not because he was a regicide, but because he was a religious fanantic.

    You could also throw in the anti-Covenanter cleansing of the North and Scotland which is why you have so many Presbyter scum over there…the ones we didnt hang from every tree from Wigan to Edinburgh.

    Finally, as I understand it, didnt the Pilgrim Fathers commit the first Amerind genocides and land fraud grabs? Niiiice.

    THEY didnt build America….. they just gave it its bible black heart.

    Send us over here your Chads….we will send them back with the corners knocked off em.

  13. Farnan, watch out for slack action! (Railfan humor)

    Great. Sounds just as fine and dandy as a SCAXliner cabcar. There’s already enough pressure in high schools from students against intellectuals, I know folks who have hit walls as a result.
    As if that’s not enough, if they can beat down intellectuals, what’s stopping them from railing against the rights of students. I smell, in this controversy, some pro-cure bull-.

    Absolutely correct. Also why The Scarlet Letter was such an appealing novel. Really liked it.

    All in all, best of luck on the trial, Corbett!

    Best Regards,
    The P32-8BWH Fan