The last time we posted about the James Corbett case was back in August when we wrote James Corbett Wins His Appeal. To remind you what that was about, 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 appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Corbett wanted to be exonerated, and Chad wanted 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 remained to be decided. 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.
When we wrote about Dr. Corbett’s appellate victory, we repeated something we said before, and we still think it’s true so we’ll repeat it again:
[T]he 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.
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.
And at the end of our post about the appellate court victory we said this:
Unless Chad and his lawyers try to get the US Supreme Court to hear the case, it’s over. And it’s a happy ending.
We then stopped following the matter, except to post about some expected reactions from creationist sites — but unknown to us, Chad and his team actually did petition the Supreme Court. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has a post about it: Corbett case ends with a “victory for teachers”. They cite an article in the Orange County Register, the source of most of our Corbett news: Supreme Court won’t hear appeal of student’s anti-Christian lawsuit. Here are some excerpts from the Register, with bold font added by us:
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal Tuesday from a former high school student who sued his history teacher, saying he disparaged Christianity in class in violation of the student’s First Amendment rights. The high court denied Chad Farnan’s written demand for a review of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision last year that exonerated Capistrano Valley High School teacher James Corbett.
That’s what we would have expected. We went to the Supreme Court’s website, and we couldn’t find any opinion. When they decline to take a case, it’s usually done without one. So we found their case docket: C. F., Petitioner. v. James Corbett, et al. (“C.F.” is Chad Farnan, the creationist student.) There’s not much information there. The petition for a writ of certiorari (i.e., a request that the court take the case) was filed (after an extension of time) on 14 December 2011, and the petition was denied on 21 February 2012. That’s it.
Let’s read on in the Orange County Register:
“It was not at all surprising that the Supreme Court denied review,” said Corbett’s attorney, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine’s law school and a constitutional scholar. “The 9th Circuit decision was sound … and made it clear he could not be held liable.”
In case you missed it in our post from last year, NCSE has that opinion at their website: C.F. v. CAPISTRANO USD (29-page pdf file). We continue:
Farnan’s attorneys, Jennifer Monk and Robert Tyler of the Murrieta-based Christian legal group Advocates for Faith & Freedom, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
That’s not surprising either. Here’s more:
“I think Dr. Corbett’s victory is a really important victory for teachers,” Chemerinksy said Tuesday. “Had Dr. Corbett been held liable, it could have opened the door for other teachers to be held liable. The 9th Circuit said there is no clear law that he violated. That means for any teacher, there is no clearly established law that says he can’t do this.”
The rest of the Register‘s article gives the history of the case. It’s a good summary. NCSE’s article highlights one particular item in the newspaper:
[T]he Register also quoted Douglas Laycock, a constitutional scholar at the University of Virginia School of Law, as identifying the case as “an example of a systemic problem in constitutional litigation”: “They can’t hold the teacher liable because the law was not clearly settled. Because they can’t hold him liable, the law will never become clear on what teachers can say in class.“
We respectfully disagree with Laycock. If a state legislature wants to create guidelines, they’re free to do so. Even if they don’t, a school board can do it. The result of such efforts may or may not be constitutional, but if such guidelines exist, then the courts will have something to which they can refer when judging a teacher’s behavior. In Corbett’s case there were no guidelines, and the appellate court properly declined to create them.
Anyway, it’s over now — and there were two good results. First, Dr. Corbett’s long nightmare has finally ended; and second, a potentially lucrative source of business for creationist-oriented lawyers hasn’t been created. At least not in this case.
And what of Chad Farnan, the student who sued his teacher? The last we heard of him he was a student at Pepperdine University in Malibu. Ah, here he is. He plays water polo. He’s majoring in business and wants to go to law school. We wish him well, so we’re pleased that he’s not majoring in creation science.
Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.